Douglas Laycock

Justice Roberts Asks If The Case of The Muslim Prisoner’s Beard Is Too Easy

John G. Roberts Jr., chief justice of the United States of America. Photo courtesy of Steve Petteway via Wikimedia Commons/RNS.

In some ways, the case of the Muslim prisoner who wants to grow a beard seems easy.  When it comes to a prisoner’s religious rights, federal laws favors accommodation when possible.

So how could Gregory Holt — known as Abdul Maalik Muhammad after his conversion to Islam — possibly lose at the Supreme Court, where the justices heard his case on Oct. 7?

Holt wants to grow a mere half-inch beard — a length of whisker allowed in the vast majority of state prison systems, but not the one where he is incarcerated: Arkansas.

Even Chief Justice John Roberts wondered how such a seemingly straightforward case came before the high court, which usually occupies itself with the thorniest of legal questions.

Supreme Court Wrestles with How 'Religious' Prayer Should Be at Public Meetings

Demonstrators hold signs in front of the Supreme Court on Wednesday. RNS photo by Katherine Burgess

The Supreme Court struggled Wednesday with a case that asks whether government bodies can open with prayers that some people find overly religious and excluding.

From their lines of questioning, it’s unclear whether the court is ready to write new rules on what sort of prayer falls outside constitutional bounds. And more than one of the justices noted that just before they took their seats, a court officer declared: “God save the United States and this honorable court.”

Few court watchers believe the justices will rule all civic prayers unconstitutional — the nation has a long history of convening legislative bodies with such language.

Rather, the question raised by Town of Greece v. Galloway is how sectarian these prayers can get.

American Atheists Wrestles With Its Cherished ‘Grumpy’ Image

Ten years after her disappearance in 1995, Madalyn Murray O’Hair still influences atheists in America today. Photo courtesy RNS.

For someone who was once dubbed “the most hated woman in America,” Madalyn Murray O’Hair is getting a lot of love in this city she once called home.


Ten years after her mysterious disappearance in August 1995, the legacy of activist Madalyn Murray O’Hair still influences atheists in America today. She was known for her role in the landmark 1963 Supreme Court decision in Murray vs. Curlett, which, combined with Abington vs. Schempp, ended prayer in public schools across the U.S. and turned her into the self- described “most hated woman in America.” She is depicted here in a Religion News Service file photo from the 1970s.

New Jersey-based American Atheists, the group O’Hair founded here in 1963 to further the separation of church and state, is marking its 50th anniversary with a three-day convention that’s expected to draw more than 900 people in its former hometown.