Supreme Court

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.

What Happens Next in the 20 States That Still Ban Gay Marriage?

Participants celebrate the Supreme Court’s gay marriage ruling in Kansas City, Mo. on June 26. Photo by Sally Morrow/RNS.

The Supreme Court’s decision to sit out the legal battle over same-sex marriage will — for now, at least — leave the future of laws prohibiting gays and lesbians from marrying in the hands of lower state and federal court judges. But it also almost certainly means the couples challenging those laws are more likely to win in the end.

The court said Oct. 6 that it would not hear appeals from five states whose same-sex marriage bans had been invalidated by lower federal courts. The decision, issued without explanation, will likely lead to recognition of gay marriages in 11 more states. It also allows an avalanche of legal challenges to the remaining bans to keep going forward in state and federal courts, where gay and lesbian couples have overwhelmingly prevailed.

The court’s decision leaves unchanged 20 state laws blocking same-sex unions. Each is already under legal attack, facing challenges in state or federal court, and sometimes both. Challenges to marriage bans already have reached a handful of state appeals courts and the federal appeals courts for the 5th, 6th, 9th and 11th circuits.

Some of those judges had been waiting to see what the Supreme Court would do. The court’s instruction Oct 6. was: Proceed.

Supreme Court Declines to Hear Same-Sex Marriage Cases, Upholding Legal Right to Marry in 5 States

The Supreme Court's inaction granted marriage rights to same-sex couples in 5 ne

The Supreme Court's inaction granted marriage rights to same-sex couples in 5 new states on Monday. Image via USAToday.

On Monday, the Supreme Court declined to hear several cases where federal appeals courts upheld the Constitutional rights of same-sex couples to marry, causing a seismic, if quiet, shift in several states' debates over same-sex marriage. The decision to not hear cases leaves intact lower appeals rulings that had overturned same-sex marriage bans. For five states and potentially six more, this guarantees the legal right for same-sex couples to marry.

USA Today reports:

The unexpected decision by the justices, announced without further explanation, immediately affects five states in which federal appeals courts had struck down bans against gay marriage: Virginia, Indiana, Wisconsin, Oklahoma and Utah.

It also will bring along six other states located in the judicial circuits overseen by those appellate courts: North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia, Colorado, Kansas and Wyoming. Lower court judges in those states must abide by their appeals court rulings.

Read more here.

Mormon Apostle: Be Civil in Fighting Gay Marriage

Dallin H. Oaks. Photo via RNS.

If Mormon opposition to same-sex marriage does not prevail in the United States, Mormons should respond graciously and “practice civility with our adversaries,” a leading church apostle counseled Oct. 4 at the faith’s General Conference.

“We should be persons of goodwill toward all,” said declined to hear appeals from five states, including Utah, in which federal appeals courts had struck down bans against gay marriage. Within hours, clerks across Utah, Virginia, Indiana, Wisconsin and Oklahoma began issuing marriage certificates to gay and lesbian couples.

Oaks, who has been outspoken in defending Mormons’ stance against gay marriage, said those in the 15 million-member Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints should be exemplars of civility.

“We should love all people, be good listeners, and show concern for their sincere beliefs,” he said during the afternoon session of the 184th Semiannual LDS General Conference, a two-day meeting broadcast across the world via satellite, TV or the Internet. “Though we may disagree, we should not be disagreeable. Our stands and communications on controversial topics should not be contentious.”

Justices to Take Up Abercrombie & Fitch Headscarf Case

Is Abercrombie & Fitch guilty of religious discrimination? Photo via RNS.

The Supreme Court granted 11 new cases for review Oct. 2, agreeing to rule on controversial topics such as religious freedom, child abuse, immigration, housing discrimination, congressional redistricting and campaign fund-raising by judicial candidates.

While they delayed any decision on same-sex marriage, the justices filled out their docket through January and into February with civil rights cases and others likely to command attention.

Here’s a look at what the justices chose from among some 2,000 cases that accumulated through the summer:

Muslim Inmate Takes His Case for a Beard to the Supreme Court

Should Gregory Holt be allowed to grow a beard? Photo courtesy of Religion & Ethics Newsweekly, via Arkansas Corrections/RNS.

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.

Utah to Appeal Gay Marriage Case to Supreme Court

Creative Commons image by Lbrcomm

Sean Reyes is the 21st Attorney General of Utah. Creative Commons image by Lbrcomm

The Utah attorney general announced Wednesday that he will go straight to the U.S. Supreme Court to challenge an appellate ruling that declared the state’s ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional.

Attorney General Sean Reyes decided to leapfrog the full 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver after a three-judge panel last month upheld a lower-court ruling and declared that the U.S. Constitution’s guarantees of equal protection and due process extend to gay men and lesbians who want to marry. It was the first time a federal appeals court had ruled on the issue.

Besides Utah, the June 25 decision applies to Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Wyoming, but the circuit court put its ruling on hold, pending appeals.

A License to Pray

Illustration by Ken Davis

THE RECENT Supreme Court ruling permitting prayer at government functions holds many ramifications for our day-to-day life, such as getting a comfortable seat at the city council meeting before the clerk starts reading the entire book of Revelation.

In writing for the majority, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy held that public prayer is “deeply embedded in the history and tradition of this country” and should be permitted as a ceremonial practice. Like, maybe at the D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles:

Driver: I’m here to renew my driver’s license.

DMV clerk: Let us pray.

Driver: Excuse me?

DMV clerk: With every head bowed, and every eye closed, we pray to the Lord Jesus Christ that his love will pour out on this driver, and by the grace of the Living God, he will always come to a complete stop, when appropriate.

Driver: Amen, I guess. Now, will I need to take a new photo?

DMV clerk: God knows who you are and what you look like. Because, his eye is on the sparrow, and I know he watches you.

Driver: You’re going to sing, aren’t you?

DMV clerk: I sing because I’m happy, I sing because I’m free, for his eye is ...

Driver: Got it. God is always watching me.

DMV clerk: And we have several traffic cameras throughout the city to help God in that regard.

Driver: Be that as it may, do I have to do anything else to renew my license?

DMV clerk: Are you washed in the Blood of the Lamb?

Driver: Um, I’m not sure. I showered this morning, but ...

DMV clerk: We’ll let it go this time. Okay, that’ll be $47.

Driver: That’s a lot higher than last year.

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How Soccer Differs from the World of Partisan Politics

Brazil fans watch World Cup quarterfinal at the São Paulo Fan Fest - Brazil v Colombia on July 4, 2014. ©Ben Tavener via Flickr.

After the final whistle ended a hard-fought World Cup match, Brazilian star David Luiz consoled Colombian star James Rodriguez.

They exchanged jerseys to show their mutual respect, and Luiz held Rodriguez close as the losing player wept in frustration.

This poignant moment was much more inspiring than a string of fouls, some intentional, that sent Brazil’s Neymar to the hospital and left players on both sides shouting in agony.

During play, soccer seems eerily like the world outside: opposing forces collide, do anything to gain advantage, bamboozle the game’s referees, shout in mock pain and real pain, challenge joints and muscles beyond their capacity, give everything for their nation’s cause — all while spectators whoop and holler in the safety of the stands.

Wheaton College Gets a Pass from Supreme Court on Contraception Mandate

The United States Supreme Court. Image courtesy Orhan Cam/

The United States Supreme Court. Image courtesy Orhan Cam/

The Supreme Court offered a further sign that it favors letting employers with religious objections avoid the Obama administration’s so-called contraception mandate.

Over the vehement objection of its three female justices, the court late Thursday blocked the administration from forcing evangelical Wheaton College to sanction insurance coverage for emergency birth control, even though it would not have had to offer the coverage itself.

In doing so, the court made clear that it’s not done with the religious liberty issue following the court’s June 30 ruling that closely-held, for-profit corporations with objections to certain contraception methods do not have to offer this type of coverage to their employees.