Press Release

Ruling Forces Arkansas to Recognize Religious Rights After 9-0 loss at Supreme Court, prison system provides across-the-board religious protections

Media Contact

Ryan Colby 202-349-7219

Additional Information

Washington, D.C. – After a scathing Supreme Court decision against the state of Arkansas for not respecting religious freedom, last Thursday a federal district court issued a permanent injunction against the state. Arkansas state agreed to the injunction, which requires the state to allow a prisoner to grow a religiously-mandated beard. Arkansas also changed its religious beard policy to align with the majority of state prison systems. In the Supreme Court decision, Holt v. Hobbs, Justices clearly stated that the government cannot refuse to protect religious freedom on “prison officials’ mere say-so.”

“The Supreme Court decision protects the rights not only of prisoners but of all Americans,” said Eric Rassbach, Deputy General Counsel of Becket. “When we protect the rights of one religious person, we protect all American citizens, religious and non-religious alike.”

Under the settlement approved, Arkansas agreed to a permanent injunction, guaranteeing Mr. Abdul Muhammad’s right to wear a beard. The state also agreed to pay the attorneys’ fees of Douglas Laycock, professor at the University of Virginia School of Law, and Becket, who represent Mr. Muhammad.

“Arkansas did this to itself. It should have done the right thing in the first place. Instead, it spent untold amounts of taxpayer money and state resources fighting against religious rights,” said Rassbach.

In January the Supreme Court ruled that Mr. Muhammad has the right to peacefully wear a half-inch beard in accordance with his Muslim faith after the State of Arkansas failed to show that it had a compelling interest to ban beards. Currently more than 43 state, federal, and local prison systems allow beards, and because Arkansas has long allowed beards for medical reasons, the Court held that Arkansas could not discriminate based on an inmate’s religious beliefs.

For more information or to arrange an interview with a Becket attorney, please contact Melinda Skea at or 202.349.7224. 


Becket is a non-profit, public-interest law firm dedicated to protecting the free expression of all religious traditions. For over 20 years, it has defended clients of all faiths, including Buddhists, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Native Americans, Sikhs, and Zoroastrians. Its recent cases include three major Supreme Court victories: the landmark ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, and the 9-0 rulings in Holt v. Hobbs and Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC, the latter of which The Wall Street Journal called one of “the most important religious liberty cases in a half century.”