Law hirsute: Supreme Court to rule on man’s right to grow a beard

US courts asked to decide whether Muslim inmate must be allowed to wear a short beard in accordance with religious beliefs

A man’s legal battle over his right to grow a beard is set to be heard in the US’s Supreme Court, officials have announced.

Gregory Holt, 38, is serving a life sentence in an Arkansas state correction facility where inmates are banned from growing beards.

Prison officials said their rules are enforced in a bid to promote hygiene and safety, but Holt has argued that the grooming policy goes against his Muslim beliefs, and has appealed under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalised Persons Act.

Arkansas’ policy states that: “No inmates will be permitted to wear facial hair other than a neatly trimmed moustache that does not extend beyond the corner of the mouth or over the lip.”

Shea Wilson with the Arkansas Department of Correction told KTHV: “We cannot hold inmates down and force them to shave their head or cut their beard but we can write them rule violations and put them in isolation for disciplinary if they don't comply.”

Last November the court stepped in to prevent the prison from forcing Holt to shave, after her sent them a hand-written petition.

Court officials said they will hear arguments and decide on the case in its next term, which starts in October and ends in June 2015 – and until then Holt will be allowed to grow his beard.

Holt’s profile on the Arkansas Department of Correction's website lists known aliases including “Malik Muhammad”, “Jamil Al-Am Al-Faris” and “Carlos Jackson”, and says that he has a tattoo with a scorpion and the word “Allah” on the inside of his left arm.

He is serving his life sentence for domestic violence and aggravated burglary. In 2012 the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported prosecutors saying he cut his girlfriend's throat and stabbed her in the chest at her mobile home.