- Professor Robert George, Princeton University
The U.S. Supreme Court’s 2013-14 Term included two major religion cases, Town of Greece v. Galloway and Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. In Galloway, the Court held that prayers offered by local clergy at the start of town board meetings did not violate the Establishment Clause. In Hobby Lobby, the Court held that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act required that corporations whose owners object to the HHS contraceptive mandate be exempt from it. The panel will explore, from a range of perspectives, the significance of Hobby Lobby and the religious freedom jurisprudence of the Roberts Court. Among the topics to be considered are the analysis under RFRA of the government’s compelling interest and the narrow tailoring requirements, the interplay between religious exemptions and the Establishment Clause, emerging issues at the intersection of religious freedom and anti-discrimination laws, ongoing challenges to the HHS contraceptive mandate, and the legacy of Hobby Lobby for future First Amendment and religious freedom cases.
The Federalist Society's Religious Liberties Practice Groups presented this panel on "Religious Liberty after Hobby Lobby" on Thursday, November 13, during the 2014 National Lawyers Convention.
On October 7, 2014, the Supreme Court heard oral argument in Holt v. Hobbs, which concerns whether the Arkansas Department of Correction's grooming policy, which generally prohibits inmates from growing beards save for a narrow health-based exception, violates the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) by impermissibly burdening the religious liberty of a Muslim inmate seeking to grow a half-inch beard for religious reasons.
To discuss the case, we have Jordan Lorence, who is senior counsel and senior vice-president of the Office of Strategic Initiatives for Alliance Defending Freedom.
The Supreme Court will rule on the religious liberty rights of prisoners in one of the first cases it will hear this term, Holt v. Hobbs. A Muslim prisoner incarcerated in an Arkansas state prison, Gregory Houston Holt (aka, Abdul Maalik Muhammed), is challenging a prison rule preventing him from growing a half inch beard, as his Islamic religious beliefs require. Mr. Holt is asserting his rights under the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), which requires state authorities to justify a substantial burden on a prisoner’s exercise of religion with a compelling state interest, implemented in the least restrictive means. This is essentially the same standard found in the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, under which the Supreme Court ruled last June in favor of Hobby Lobby Stores and Conestoga Wood Specialties in their challenges to the HHS mandate on abortifacient contraceptives.
The Arkansas Department of Corrections limits prisoner beards to a quarter inch, and then only to help remedy medical conditions. Arkansas justifies the short-beard policy to prevent prisoners from smuggling contraband in their beards, and to prevent prisoners from easily altering their appearances after an escape.
How much deference must courts give to state prison officials, who need flexibility to deal with the complex circumstances of maintaining security in a prison environment? Our expert attended the oral arguments and offered his analysis of the case and its likely outcome.