It’s not every day that a coalition of legal minds is rooting for a violent inmate convicted of stabbing his girlfriend in the neck.
When Gregory Holt’s case arrives at the U.S. Supreme Court on Oct. 7, lawyers won’t be arguing about what landed him a life sentence in an Arkansas state prison, but rather what he wanted to do once he got there: grow a beard in observance of his Muslim religious beliefs.
The state of Arkansas says he can’t. Holt — a convert to Islam who now calls himself Abdul Maalik Muhammad — says he would keep his beard no longer than half an inch. But prison officials, backed by the state’s attorney general, argue that even such a short beard poses security risks.
“When it comes to making prison policies, the stakes are high; lives can be lost if the wrong decision is made,” according to the state’s legal brief, which describes Holt as a violent self-declared fundamentalist. “The ADC takes religious freedom seriously, but it takes seriously its paramount interests in safety and security, too.”
The St. Louis-based 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with Ray Hobbs, the director of the Arkansas Department of Correction. But it’s hard to find too many others who think that the prison’s case for security trumps Holt’s right to exercise his religion.
Law officers testified Wednesday about the chaotic and bizarre scene they discovered the night of Oct. 4, 2011, when they arrived at the Holmes County, Ohio, home of Raymond Hershberger, a 79-year-old Amish bishop.
The officers recalled that clumps of gray hair lay on a rocking chair and on the floor of the living room, and a crowd of people were crying and yelling in Pennsylvania Dutch, their first language.
Hershberger’s son, Levi, told the officers that "Some guys broke in and gave Grandpa a bad haircut," a Sheriff’s Department detective said.
The testimony opened the second week of the hate-crime trial of Amish bishop Samuel Mullet Sr. and 15 of his followers. They are accused of conspiracy and kidnapping in what prosecutors describe as hair-cutting attacks on nine religious enemies and estranged family members.
Each day leading until Christmas we will post a different video rendition of the "Hallelujah Chorus" for your holiday enjoyment and edification.
Today's installment comes from a fellow who goes by the handle (pardon the pun) "Banjo Ben Yahu" and, in addition to having an epic beard (someone call the casting director for "Whisker Wars" STAT), does the German composer proud with his solo-banjo rendition of Handel's "Hallelujah Chorus."