Appeals Court Upholds Rule Against Growing Beards At Missouri Prison
ST. LOUIS (AP) _ A federal appeals court has ruled that prison inmates do not have a right to grow beards as part of their religion because the beards could create a security problem by changing a prisoner’s appearance.
Thursday’s 2-1 ruling by a panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a lower court ruling in a suit filed by a Muslim inmate at the maximum security Missouri State Penitentiary.
Inmate James Hill, who also uses the name Amin Khatib Muhammad, contended in his suit against prison officials that the wearing of facial hair was a practice of his religion.
In their appeal, former warden Donald Wyrick and David Blackwell, director of the Division of Adult Institutions in the state Department of Corrections, said they did not dispute Hill’s religious beliefs. But they said a regulation against beards was needed for prison security.
The growing or shaving of a beard is very effective in altering a person’s appearance, Wyrick said. Because there is a high turnover rate among prison guards at the prison, the regulation was necessary to identify inmates involved in prison assaults and escape attempts, he said.
Circuit Judges George G. Fagg and Roy W. Harper said the regulation ″assists in the accomplishment of institutional security by minimizing an inmate’s ability to alter his appearance rapidly and significantly.″
Their majority opinion added that, other than being denied an exemption from the beard regulation, Hill had been accomodated in other ways in the practice of his religion and was allowed to grow sideburns and a moustache.
Judge Richard S. Arnold dissented, saying he agreed with the legal framework of the opinion but felt the ruling did not apply to Hill’s case.