Beards and Hair Length
Courtroom; Military Criminal Defendant Wearing Beard in

Courtroom; Military Criminal Defendant Wearing Beard in

Petitioner, Major Nidal M. Hasan, who was charged at court-martial with 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder and 13 counts of premeditated murder in violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, was held in contempt for appearing in court, beginning on June 8, 2012, with an unauthorized beard in violation of Army uniform and grooming regulations. After his request for a religious accommodation was denied by the Deputy Chief of Staff of the Army, petitioner was ordered by the military judge to be forcibly shaved. The U.S. Court of Criminal Appeals held that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) did not afford petitioner the right to wear a beard and upheld the order that if petitioner did not voluntarily shave he was to be forcibly shaved prior to all subsequent court appearances. Petitioner was clean-shaven when he committed the crimes with which he was charged and when he appeared before the court on several occasions prior to June 8, 2012. Also, petitioner had initiated a telephone interview with a reporter for AI-Jazeera during which petitioner stated that he wished “to convey a message to the world” and to apologize to the mujahedeen “for participating in the illegal and immoral aggression against Muslims.” The government argued that petitioner’s motive for appearing in court with a beard was “to further defy the authority of his military superiors and this Court and to serve as a manifestation of his allegiance to the Mujahedeen.” The military judge held that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) did not afford petitioner the right to wear a beard and ordered that petitioner be clean-shaven for all subsequent pretrial hearings and the trial and, if petitioner did not voluntarily shave, petitioner was to be forcibly shaved prior to all subsequent pretrial hearings and prior to trial. The U.S. Army Court of Criminal Appeals held that the military judge did not commit clear error in determining that petitioner’s desire to appear unshaven in court was not based on a sincerely held religious belief and in holding that even if petitioner had succeeded in demonstrating that his wearing a beard in court was based on his sincere religious beliefs compelling interests justified the order to shave and no lesser restrictive means were available to accomplish these interests. The Court agreed with the military judge’s conclusion that petitioner’s wearing of the beard denigrated the dignity, order, and decorum of the court-martial proceedings and was disruptive under the current posture of the case. Furthermore, petitioner’s failure to comply with the Army’s grooming regulations without a justifiable religious reason would cast him in a negative light during his appearance before a military panel hearing his case. Thus, the military judge had the authority to safeguard petitioner against the injection of prejudice into the court-martial process even over petitioner’s objection. The Court was unconvinced that a corrective instruction to the panel hearing his case would adequately address the interests of both parties in this case   Case # 4575 (U.S. Army Ct. Crim. App.) (en banc)



Muslim firefighters for the District of Columbia who wore beards for religious reasons challenged a 2001 grooming policy that prohibited beards. They secured a preliminarily injunction enjoining enforcement of the policy. In 2005, the D.C. Department of Fire and Emergency Medical Services (the Department) issued a separate “safety policy,” which forbade Department employees using “tight-fitting facepieces” to have facial hair that came “between the sealing surface of the facepiece and face.” The federal district court granted summary judgment to the firefighters, holding that the application of the safety policy to the firefighters violated their rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which, although not applicable to the states, was applicable to the District of Columbia. Under RFRA, the District could not substantially burden the firefighters’ exercise of religion unless it demonstrated that application of the burden was the least restrictive means of furthering a compelling governmental interest. It was conceded that the religious exercise of the firefighters was substantially burdened and that the government had a compelling interest in the safety of the firefighters. The question before the district court was whether the no beard policy was the least restrictive means of furthering the government’s compelling interest in the safety of its firefighters. Firefighters protected themselves in dangerous atmospheres by using a number of forms of respiratory equipment, all of which used the same tight-fitting face mask. The most powerful system of protection – to be used in cases of immediate danger to life and health involving active fires, other oxygen-deprived environments, and settings in which highly toxic contaminants could be inhaled – was a Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus, or SCBA, consisting of an air tank, a regulator, and a mask designed to maintain “positive pressure” in the face mask, where the atmospheric pressure was greater inside the mask than outside so that, in the case of a leak in the seal of the face mask, clean air would leak out of the mask into the outside atmosphere, rather than contaminated outside air leaking into the mask. Other alternative respiratory protection systems were designed for cases not involving situations “immediately dangerous to life and health.” One of these alternative systems was an air-purifying filter, or APR, consisting of a mask and a filter through which the user breathed, relying on the negative pressure created by inhalation to draw outside air through the filter. Thus, leaks in the seal of an APR mask would allow air from the outside environment to enter the mask, exposing the firefighter to any contaminants in the atmosphere. The second of these alternative systems was a powered air-purifying filter, or PAPR, operated like an APR, but using a battery-powered fan to force air through its filter, thereby creating “a slightly positive pressure system.” If a PAPR fan failed for any reason, the system functioned as a negative pressure APR, provided it was affixed to a tight-fitting mask. On the motion for summary judgment, the Department apparently conceded that the positive pressure in the SCBA system was adequate to protect bearded firefighters from any leakage that may be caused by facial hair. Thus the district court determined that the central dispute in the case was “whether bearded firefighters can safely operate using negative pressure protection systems (APRs) in a tight-fitting mask, and whether they need to be able to do so.” On the motion for summary judgment, the District of Columbia argued that its clean-shaven policy was necessary because firefighters had to be able to safely use APRs so that they could work for long periods in an environment, such as the aftermath of a terrorist attack, which was not imminently dangerous to life and health but still posed a threat. The district court found that the vast majority of firefighter work was done in SCBAs, if respiratory protection was required at all, and that the use of any other system of protection – in almost any scenario – was the exception and not the rule. It found that the clean-shaven policy was not sufficiently narrowly tailored, as required under RFRA, because the Department could redeploy bearded firefighters out of the zone in which APRs would be required, either “up” into areas in which SCBA systems were required, or “down” into areas in which no protection was needed. Although the RFRA was clearly applicable to the case, the district court was critical of the burden imposed on the courts by RFRA to decide the rather technical question of whether it is safe enough for firefighters to wear a religiously required beard under their face masks, or whether the mission of a fire brigade is compromised by steps taken to accommodate this religious expression. The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed. On appeal, the District of Columbia did not challenge the district court’s finding that bearded firefighters could be redeployed away from areas in which a negative-air pressure mask (ARP) was required. Instead it contended that it never conceded bearded firefighters could safely use SCBAs and indeed argued the opposite. Thus it maintained that summary judgment was inappropriately granted because there was a genuine issue of material fact as to the safety for bearded firefighters to wear any type of tight-fitting face mask, regardless of whether the mask was used in a positive or negative configuration. The Court of Appeals, after a lengthy and painstakingly close examination of the record, agreed with the district court that the District of Columbia had conceded in the lower court that bearded firefighters could safely use SCBAs and that it was too late to raise the issue on appeal. Judge Williams in his concurrence expressed the opinion that on the merits summary judgment in favor of the firefighters should have been denied because there were legitimate safety concerns about the use of SCBAs by bearded firefighters, but that the District’s “own muddled litigation strategy rendered summary judgment for the plaintiffs a legitimate outcome” preventing the District from having a chance of going to trial to prove that with a bearded wearer the SCBA poses serious safety risks for which the District’s policy was the least restrictive solution. However, Judge Williams pointed out that if, in the future, the experience in the field should indicate that bearded firefighters could not safely use SCBAs, then the District could seek to reverse the injunctive relief obtained by plaintiffs   Case # 3435 (D.C. Cir.), affirming, Case # 3005 (D.D.C.)

The Uniform and Personal Appearance Guidelines of United Parcel Service (UPS), applicable to every UPS facility across the country, prohibited all UPS workers who were required to meet the public while on the job from wearing any facial hair below the lower lip. However, UPS had a religious accommodation policy to allow for the granting of limited exemptions from the Appearance Guidelines for religious beliefs. A Muslim complained that he was not hired as a seasonal helper and sorter by UPS because he would not shave his beard. Another Muslim complained that he was demoted by UPS from a full-time position to a part-time position because he wore a beard. An administrative subpoena filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) requested information about how religious exemptions from UPS’s Uniform Appearance Guidelines were handled nationwide. The district court concluded that the requested nationwide information was not relevant to the two individual charges being investigated by the EEOC. The Second Circuit panel reversed, holding that the district court applied too restrictive a standard of relevance in determining that the requested information about how religious exemptions to the UPS Appearance Guidelines were (or were not) granted nationwide was not relevant to the charges being investigated   Case # 3852 (2d Cir. 2009), reversing, Case # 3310 (W.D.N.Y.)

Police department rule prohibiting the wearing of beards which made allowance for exemptions for medical reasons but not for officers whose religious beliefs prohibited them from shaving their beards was subject to strict scrutiny; departmental rule violated free exercise clause of First Amendment   Case # 435 (3d Dept.)

Plaintiff, a Muslim, was offered employment with the N.J. Department of Corrections. He was required to successfully complete a training program. There was a written policy precluding correction officer recruit candidates attending the program from having any facial hair. The reasoning for the rule had no other motivation beyond safety, and to a lesser extent, uniformity among its trainees. Plaintiff – asserting that his religion prohibited him from shaving his beard – requested that he be allowed to have facial hair. The request was denied, prompting him to file an EEOC Complaint. Thereafter defendants agreed to accommodate plaintiff by permitting him to grow a beard no longer than one-eighth of an inch. Plaintiff signed a written acknowledgment and agreement regarding the one-eighth inch maximum facial hair growth. However, starting on the first day of the Program, plaintiff failed to abide by the one-eighth inch limit and was eventually discharged from the Program. After plaintiff’s discharge, he offered to shave his beard completely off if he could return to training, but his request was denied. Plaintiff’s claims for, inter alia, violation of his free exercise rights by the state, and his Title VII claims for unlawful discrimination, failure to accommodate and retaliation were all dismissed on the merits by the district court. Indeed, the district court said that defendants did not even have to make the accommodation that they did make. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment of the district court for substantially the same reasons set forth in the district court’s written opinion   Case # 3293 (3d Cir.), affirming, Case # 2898 (D. N.J.)

 Although prison grooming policy was facially neutral, plaintiff – a Rastafarian African-American male employed as a uniformed correctional officer by the State of Maryland who was refused the right to wear short dreadlocks – stated a case for religious discrimination and disparate treatment under 42 U.S.C.A. § 1983 and Articles 24 and 36 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights. The right to assert the religious discrimination case under § 1983 and state law was not preempted by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C.A. § 2000e et seq. and the district court erred in believing plaintiff’s religious discrimination claim could only be brought under Title VII. However, plaintiff did not establish a claim for racial discrimination    Case # 1418 (4th Cir.)

Defendant employer did not engage in religious discrimination when it refused to hire plaintiff – a Rastafarian and Hebrew Israelite – as a security guard on account of his dreadlocks, which violated defendant’s grooming policy, because plaintiff never brought to defendant’s attention during the interview process that his religious beliefs precluded him from cutting his dreadlocks. Faced with two contradicting stories, the trial judge found defendant’s testimony more credible than plaintiff’s. Plaintiff’s dreadlocks did not, in themselves suffice to notify defendant of the religious nature of plaintiff’s hairstyle. Unlike race or sex, a person’s religion is not always readily apparent. Even if a plaintiff wears a religious symbol, such as a cross or a yarmulka (skull cap), this may not pinpoint his particular beliefs and observances in conflict with the employer’s requirements. Employers are not charged with detailed knowledge of the beliefs and observances associated with particular sects and the employee has a duty to give fair notice of religious practices that might interfere with his employment. Although an employer cannot shield itself from liability by intentionally remaining in the dark, the person conducting the interview of plaintiff testified that he was not familiar with the Rastafarian faith and did not associate with religion plaintiff’s statement upon leaving the interview that cutting his hair was against his “belief.” Nor did the fact that plaintiff’s name began with the word “Lord” (Lord Osunfarian Xodus) persuade the Court of Appeals that the interviewer knew the dreadlocks had religious meaning for plaintiff   Case # 4134 (7th Cir.)

Plaintiff’s complaint that he was not promoted to assistant custodian at a public elementary school and was ultimately terminated because he wore his hair in corn-rows in conformity with his religious practice of “Hebraism” was dismissed. At no time was the school principal made aware of plaintiff’s religious persuasion, nor of any of his accompanying beliefs. Further, plaintiff in fact resigned from his position as a temporary custodian following a discussion concerning his appearance and conformance with school board grooming policies and in turn plaintiff never applied for the permanent position   Case # 2119 (W.D. La.)

Plaintiff – a practicing Rastafarian who, in adherence to his religious beliefs, did not shave or cut his hair – worked at a Jiffy Lube oil change facility in Hadley, Massachusetts. Jiffy Lube was one of several operational divisions owned by defendant. Plaintiff worked as a lube technician, servicing vehicles while working in both the upper and lower bays. At times, plaintiff was also responsible for greeting arriving customers and discussing products and services with them. In August 2001, a new Vice President of Operations for the Jiffy Lube division., seeking to improve sales, hired a consultant to help him develop and implement strategies to increase business. The consultant advised that establishments with a “clean shaven personal appearance policy” tended to be more successful. The V.P. implemented a new personal appearance policy in his divisions requiring employees with customer contact to be clean shaven. Sideburns had to be neatly trimmed and no longer than the bottom of the ear and hair had to be clean, combed, and neatly trimmed or arranged. Other businesses owned by the defendant, including a retail gasoline station and convenience store, a restaurant, and a car wash, did not implement similar policies. Because plaintiff would not shave, he was assigned to work exclusively in the lower bay, where he continued to be paid at the same rate and, in fact, received a merit increase. After being assigned full-time to the lower bay, plaintiff had no formal customer contact and there was no alternative to working in the lower bay if he wanted to keep his job. Plaintiff alleged that working conditions in the lower bay were significantly worse than those in the upper bay. Plaintiff was often the only one assigned to the lower bay during his shifts, which made it difficult for him to take breaks. In the winter, the lower bay was very cold and plaintiff alleged that one was more likely to be burned by oil in the lower bay and that he often hurt his knuckles and hit his head on a pipe. The U.S. District Court held that defendant employer was entitled to summary judgment on plaintiff’s Title VII claim because plaintiff’s requested accommodation – complete exemption from the grooming policy – constituted an undue hardship on the employer under existing First Circuit case law. The district court held that granting an outright exemption from defendant’s neutral dress code would be an undue hardship because it would adversely affect the employer’s public image. Although feeling constrained by the case law, the district court expressed concern that the balance in grooming cases may have tipped too strongly in favor of an employer’s preferences, or even prejudices. The Judge was concerned that given the current case law employers could be inclined to terminate or restrict from customer contact, on image grounds, an employee wearing a yarmulke (skullcap), a veil, or the mark on the forehead denoting Ash Wednesday. He expressed concern that the employer considerations of “public image” might persuade an employer to tolerate the religious practices of predominant groups, while arguing “undue hardship” and “image” in forbidding practices that were less widespread or well known. The U.S. District Court pointedly refused to grant summary judgment on plaintiff’s state claim under Mass. G. L. c. 151B, § 4(1A), dismissing it without prejudice to allow the state to resolve the relevant issues, perhaps with a different outcome. In the present case, Massachusetts’ highest court addressed plaintiff’s state claim.   Case # 2214 (D. Mass.).  The state trial court granted summary judgment in favor of defendant employer, holding that, as a matter of law, an exemption from the grooming policy would constitute an undue hardship because the defendant had a right to control its public image. The Mass. Supreme Judicial Court vacated the grant of summary judgment and remanded for further consideration. Mass. G.L. c. 151B, § 4(1A), requires an employer to provide a reasonable accommodation unless there is an undue hardship. A plaintiff’s initial request for an exemption from the grooming policy does not relieve the defendant of this obligation. Because the defendant did not discuss alternatives to working in the lower bay with the plaintiff, the defendant could not show conclusively, on the present record, that a total exemption from the grooming policy was the only possible accommodation. Indeed, plaintiff asserted that he never said that he would not have considered suggestions by defendant for an accommodation other than a complete exemption and that he, in fact, would have considered other alternatives had they been offered. For example, plaintiff could possibly have been encouraged to apply for a position in one of the defendant’s other businesses that did not require employees to be clean shaven. Because the defendant did not engage in an interactive process to address the plaintiff’s religious needs, it was the defendant’s burden to prove conclusively that no other conceivable accommodation other than relegation to the lower bay was possible without imposing an undue hardship. The Mass. Supreme Judicial Court refused to follow the First Circuit’s position (articulated within the context of a Title VII action), that, as a matter of law, requiring an employer to grant exemptions from grooming practices impose an undue hardship on the employer. A claim of the noneconomic costs to the employer’s public image is not sufficient to demonstrate undue hardship. Requiring actual proof of undue hardship protects against the misuse of “public image” The Court concluded that defendant’s summary judgment evidence was insufficient to conclusively demonstrate that all conceivable accommodations, other than relegation of the plaintiff to the lower bay, would impose an undue hardship on the course of its business. However, plaintiff was also not entitled to summary judgment because it could not be said, based on the existing record, that no reasonable jury could conclude that working in the lower bay was not a reasonable accommodation   Case # 3369 (Mass.)

Plaintiff, an Orthodox Jewish member of the Las Vegas Police Department, claimed that his faith required that he wear a beard and cover his head. Initially, plaintiff worked undercover on the Vice Squad, which permitted him to wear a beard and baseball cap. But the undercover assignment created other conflicts with plaintiff’s faith, requiring him to sometimes work on the Jewish Sabbath and to participate in squad lunches at non-kosher restaurants. After requesting accommodation, plaintiff was permitted to skip the squad lunches at non-kosher restaurants. To accommodate plaintiff’s Sabbath observance, plaintiff was allowed to transfer to the Department’s non-uniformed Quality Assurance unit where officers typically worked only Monday through Friday. However, six weeks after his arrival in the unit, plaintiff was required to shave his beard in conformity with the Department’s dress and grooming policy. Although the policy also required that plaintiff not wear a hat indoors, plaintiff continued to wear his yarmulke (skullcap) indoors. Plaintiff then requested a formal religious accommodation for his beard and yarmulke. Although the Department made exceptions for officers with medical conditions, plaintiff was denied permission to wear a closely-trimmed, quarter-inch beard on the grounds that beards prevent the proper fitting of gas masks, provide additional means for a suspect to gain an advantage when engaged in combat with an officer, and undermined officer uniformity. Wearing of a yarmulke was denied on the ground that wearing religious symbols would undermine officer neutrality and erode public trust. Plaintiff asserted claims for violation of his right of free exercise of religion under the U.S. and Nevada constitutions; violation of the First Amendment right of free speech and the Fourteenth Amendment right of equal protection; violation of his rights under Title VII and Nevada statutory law to be free from religious discrimination and retaliation in the workplace; and for intentional infliction of emotional distress. The district court rejected the Department’s contention that in evaluating whether or not plaintiff had improperly been denied an accommodation for his religious need to wear a beard and yarmulke the Court to had to consider the Department’s past accommodation of plaintiff’s Sabbath observance and kosher restrictions. The Department unsuccessfully argued that because it previously accommodated plaintiff, it had already satisfied its obligations to accommodate under the First Amendment and Title VII. The Court held that the Department, had to examine each request for accommodation separately and that the Department’s obligation to comply with the First Amendment and Title VII was ongoing and unaltered by its prior decisions to accommodate plaintiff’s observance of kosher laws and the Sabbath. Although efforts at reasonable accommodation in a previous position may constitute admissible evidence with respect to the employer’s motives or bona fides, such prior efforts do not constitute compliance, in whole or in part, with the employer’s obligations to take steps toward accommodation with respect to a new position, or requests for a new accommodation. Courts and employers must independently evaluate each accommodation request, irrespective of how many previous requests have been granted or denied. Because police officers were allowed to wear a beard for medical reasons, plaintiff’s First Amendment free exercise challenge to the Department’s refusal to accommodate his request to wear a religious beard, was subjected to strict scrutiny analysis. The court held that the no-beard policy did not survive heightened scrutiny and violated the First Amendment. The court also stated it would find the Department’s failure to accommodate plaintiff’s beard invalid under Title VII. Because the Department’s headgear policy applied to all officers without exception, and because there was no evidence that the headgear policy was motivated by religious animus, said policy was subject to the general rule that the right of free exercise does not relieve an individual of the obligation to comply with a valid and neutral law of general applicability on the ground that the law proscribes conduct (here the wearing of a yarmulke), that his religion prescribes. Accordingly, the court held that plaintiff’s First Amendment right of free exercise did not relieve him of his duty of complying with the Department’s headgear regulations. The Nevada Constitution did not afford plaintiff any greater relief. As to plaintiff’s claim that the Department’s headgear policy violated his rights under Title VII, the court found that summary judgment was precluded because there were genuine issues of material fact as to whether the Department made a good faith effort to accommodate plaintiff’s request to wear a yarmulke, or alternatively a baseball cap, and whether plaintiff’s request imposed an undue hardship on the Department. Plaintiff’s state employment discrimination and retaliation claims under Nev. Rev. Stat. §§ 613.330 and 613.340 against the Department and the Sheriff were barred by Nev. Rev. Stat. § 41.032, which provided immunity for government officers engaged in discretionary acts. To fall within the scope of discretionary-act immunity, a decision must involve an element of individual judgment or choice and be based on considerations of social, economic, or political policy. Defendants’ decision to deny plaintiff’s accommodation request involved an element of individual judgment or choice because they had flexibility in interpreting and potentially modifying the department’s dress and grooming regulations. Second, they made their decision after weighing various policy implications. See court’s decision for details. The court granted summary judgment dismissing plaintiff’s equal protection claim, stating, in part, that even though the burden of the Department’s headgear policy may have disproportionately impacted a protected class of religionists, the regulation was not invidious and was subject only to rational basis review. This was readily accomplished because the regulation advanced the Department’s interest in promoting the professional and uniform appearance of its officers. The court also granted summary judgment dismissing plaintiff’s claims for intentional infliction of emotional distress and for violation of his right to free speech. See court’s decision for details   Case # 3277 (D. Nev.)

Muslim firefighter stated prima facie case of religious discrimination when he alleged that he was fired for refusing, on religious grounds, to comply with department’s no-beard policy   Case # 437 (D. N.J.)

Muslim firefighter stated prima facie case of religious discrimination when he alleged that he was fired for refusing, on religious grounds, to comply with the department’s no-beard policy; court rejected argument that any claim of discrimination should be dismissed as time-barred under 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(e)(1) and (f)(1), which require that a complaint be filed with the court within 300 days after occurrence of the alleged unlawful employment practice and within 90 days of receipt of a right-to-sue letter from the EEOC   Case # 436 (D. N.J.)

Defendant hotel did not discriminate against plaintiff waiter on the basis of his Muslim religion when it refused to let him work as a banquet waiter when he appeared for work with a beard in violation of hotel rules    Case # 1035 (S.D.N.Y.)

Employee’s hair. Plaintiff, a Black United Parcel Service (UPS) driver wore his hair locks in a style known as “African locked hair” as "an outward expression of an internal commitment to [his] Protestant faith as well as [his] Nubian belief system." Pursuant to a collective bargaining agreement, drivers were required to comply with guidelines providing that the hair styles of male drivers should be worn in a “businesslike manner." UPS was willing to accommodate the plaintiff’s unbusinesslike hair style by allowing him to wear a hat which, in plaintiff’s case, had to be a cold-weather “woolen skully” or ski cap. Although initially agreeing to wear the hat, plaintiff eventually refused because it was too hot, especially in the summer, and caused various problems with his hair. Plaintiff was eventually discharged. UPS was granted summary judgment dismissing plaintiff’s Title VII actions for racial discrimination, disparate impact of the hat policy on African–Americans, religious discrimination, and retaliation for complaining about discrimination. As to the religious discrimination claim, nowhere did plaintiff claim that his religious tenets required or dictated that particular hairstyle, or that locks were an essential part of his faith. And even assuming that plaintiff’s locks were required by his religion, plaintiff failed to inform UPS of the alleged conflict between his religious practice and the hat policy. Plaintiff’s refusal to wear a hat did not stem from a religious aversion to hats    Case # 1275 (S.D.N.Y.)

A Muslim complained that he was not hired as a seasonal helper and sorter by UPS because he would not shave his beard. Another Muslim complained that he was demoted by UPS from a full-time position to a part-time position because he wore a beard. The administrative subpoena served on UPS by the EEOC was held overly broad, seeking information not relevant to the individual charges. While an EEOC investigation may extend to individuals not named in the original charge, there must be a reasonable connection between the charges being investigated and the information sought in the subpoena. Here, the EEOC failed to demonstrate such a connection. A nationwide search for information was not reasonable in light of the specific charges being investigated. See court opinion for the information sought by the EEOC   Case # 3310 (W.D.N.Y.)

Plaintiff, a Black Rastafarian with shoulder length dreadlocks,quit job after being told by a supervisor that he looked "radical" and needed to look like and act like the other African-American worker. Plaintiff was also asked if he went to church and had been saved. Plaintiff was told that those "dread things" were unacceptable, that the supervisor had to look out for the best interests of the company, and that plaintiff would not go anywhere with the company due to his looks. The incident lasted 20 to 30 minutes and ended with the supervisor saying that he might let plaintiff finish out the day. Although defendants did not qualify as “employers” subject to suit under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, they were subject to suit under the Ohio Civil Rights Act. However, plaintiff, who was not an independent contractor, failed to make out a prima facie case for racial and religious discrimination as there was no proof that he suffered an adverse employment action. Nor was defendant’s conduct of sufficient severity to establish a hostile work environment    Case # 1304 (S.D. Ohio)

The Philadelphia police department had a 1999 personal appearance policy prohibiting all beards and goatees, “except when consistent with assignment.” There was, however, an exemption to the restriction on facial hair for beards worn for medical reasons, so long as the facial hair was kept trimmed and neat and did not exceed one-quarter inch (¼”) in length. No exception was made for beards worn for religious reasons. When plaintiff police officer, a practicing Muslim, began wearing a beard for religious reasons in May 2003, he was admonished and disciplined for violating the personal appearance policy. However, in August 2003, the police department amended its policy to permit a religious exception for beards so long as they too were kept trimmed and neat and did not exceed 1/4” in length. However, plaintiff, for religious reasons, persisted in growing his beard beyond 1/4” and was disciplined several times between August 2003 and July 2005. On July 21, 2005, more than two years after he began to grow his beard, plaintiff filed, for the first time, a charge of religious discrimination with the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Plaintiff was disciplined again in December 2005 for keeping a beard longer than 1/4” and was terminated in February 2006 for continued violation of police department policies. Plaintiff alleged that the City unlawfully discriminated against him on the basis of his religion under Title VII and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act by (1) failing to accommodate his religious beliefs and (2) by terminating him in 2006 in retaliation for his July 2005 filing of a charge of discrimination. The court granted summary judgment in favor of defendant City and against plaintiff. The defendant attempted to accommodate plaintiff by allowing the wearing of a beard up to 1/4” in length for religious reasons. Requiring the police to allow officers to grow beards beyond 1/4” would impose the undue hardship of sacrificing the police department’s commitment to having officers maintain a neutral, uniform appearance. The department had an interest in not having officers distinguishable on the basis of religion, so as to preserve the perception among city residents of the department’s impartiality toward citizens of all races and religions whom the police are charged to serve and protect. Strict enforcement of the department’s personal appearance policy was also necessary to maintain in a military-like institution the subordination of police officers’ personal preferences to the police department’s authority. The interlude of five and seven months between plaintiff’s July 2005 discrimination charge filed with the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations and the EEOC and the December 2005 disciplinary action and February 2006 termination was not brief enough to raise the inference that plaintiff’s discipline and termination were in retaliation for the July 2005 filing. Absent temporal proximity, circumstantial evidence of a “pattern of antagonism” following the protected conduct of filing a discrimination charge can give rise to an inference of retaliation. However, plaintiff failed to show a pattern of hostility based on his filing of the discrimination charge. See court’s opinion for details. No reasonable finder of fact could conclude that plaintiff was disciplined in December 2005 and terminated in February 2006 for any reason other than his continued refusal to comply with the policy directive to maintain his beard at ¼” in length   Case # 3999 (E.D. Penn.)

 Plaintiff, a police officer who was a Rastafarian having a religious objection to cutting his hair, wore his hair below his uniform cap in violation of the police department’s grooming code. Partly because of the ongoing friction concerning his hair, plaintiff wrote and distributed two memoranda criticizing the police department. Plaintiff sued his employer and former supervisors claiming that they discriminated against him on the basis of religion in violation of Title VII and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, and retaliated against him for exercising his First Amendment right to free speech. The district court granted summary judgment to defendants with respect to plaintiff’s free speech claim, but denied summary judgment to defendants with respect to plaintiff’s Title VII and PHRA religious discrimination claims. The court held that plaintiff could go forward with his religious discrimination claims for disparate treatment, failure to accommodate, and hostile work environment. There was also sufficient evidence in the record for plaintiff to proceed with his retaliation claims under Title VII and the PHRA. In regard to plaintiff’s Title VII and PHRA retaliation claims, the court held that not only were the unpaid suspension and termination of plaintiff adverse employment actions, but so was, under the facts, an order that plaintiff attend a fitness for duty/psychological evaluation. The fact that plaintiff was the subject of an involuntary psychological evaluation was a permanent record in his personnel file and could have been a detriment to obtaining law enforcement positions in the future. However, an Internal Affairs investigation of plaintiff’s conduct was not, under the facts, an adverse employment action. Plaintiff’s distribution of two memoranda criticizing the police department was held not to be protected free speech. See Case Digest for complete discussion of the factual details and the legal principles involved in each of plaintiff’s claims   Case # 3257 (E.D. Pa.)

Under Section 7, Article I of the Ohio Constitution, the standard for reviewing a generally applicable, religion-neutral state regulation that allegedly violates a person's right to free exercise of religion is whether the regulation serves a compelling state interest and is the least restrictive means of furthering that interest, a standard different than the one currently applicable under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution; plaintiff, a uniformed Ohio State corrections officer who was a practitioner of Native American Spirituality wore his hair long for religious reasons; a department of corrections regulation required that male uniformed employees cut their hair in such a style that it was collar length or shorter in the back; held, grooming policy should have included an accommodation for persons who grow their hair long for religious reasons, allowing them to tuck their hair under their uniform caps    Case # 876 (Ohio)

Plaintiff, a practicing Muslim whose religious beliefs required him to grow a beard, was employed by the City of Philadelphia as a firefighter. He was suspended from his job without pay for refusing to shave his beard as required by a Fire Department Directive. The city claimed that the beard would interfere with the wearing of a facemask. This case involved the so-called “positive pressure” face mask, as opposed to older “negative pressure” face masks. Plaintiff alleged a violation of the Pennsylvania Religious Freedom Protection Act (RFPA) and the Pennsylvania Constitution. Plaintiff’s Emergency Petition for a Preliminary Injunction, enjoining the City from terminating his employment or diminishing his compensation or benefits during the pendency of the litigation, was granted, with Judge Dych finding that plaintiff had established a strong likelihood of success on the merits. However, after a bench trial, Judge James Murray Lynn entered a verdict in favor of the defendant City finding the evidence in favor of the City to be overwhelming. The nature of said evidence was not set out by the trial court in a published opinion, but Judge Lynn had refused, unlike Judge Dych, to take judicial notice of, or otherwise permit, plaintiff to introduce evidence of the District of Columbia's practice and experience in permitting its firefighters to serve with beards    Case # 2317 (Phila. Ct. Com. Pl.)

Plaintiff employee, a Pentecostal Christian, refused to submit a hair sample for drug testing and was terminated for insubordination. Plaintiff sued for religious discrimination under Texas law claiming that defendant failed to offer her a reasonable accommodation. Judgment for defendant. As part of her prima facie case, plaintiff had to show that she informed her employer of her religious belief (opposition to cutting her hair) which conflicted with an employment requirement (taking the drug test). Here, plaintiff never informed the employer of her religious opposition to cutting her hair. Although plaintiff informed the employer that its request for the hair sample was “unconstitutional” and there was some evidence the employer knew of plaintiff’s Pentecostal faith and that many Pentecostal women had a preference for long hair, there was no evidence that the employer knew that the Pentecostal faith forbids hair cutting, particularly in light of testimony that plaintiff’s supervisor had seen plaintiff and other Pentecostal women with their hair cut. Knowledge that an employee has strong religious beliefs does not place an employer on notice that she might engage in any particular religious activity. The Court of Appeals upheld the trial court’s award to defendant of $ 27,849 in attorney’s fees under Tex. Lab. Code Ann. § 21.259(a) on the ground that plaintiff’s failure to come forward with summary judgment evidence to support an essential element of her claim provided a reasonable basis for the trial court to find her claim groundless.    Case # 2909 (Texas App.)

See also Employment


First Circuit Cases

Taoist prisoner denied preliminary injunction exempting him from the prison shaving requirement. Plaintiff had not established that shaving was essential to his religious practice.   Case # 1400 (D. N.H.)

Second Circuit Cases

Rastafarian prisoner alleged that his hair, or dreadlocks, were touched in violation of his free exercise of religion; the district court held that (1) under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, personal involvement of defendants in alleged constitutional deprivations is a prerequisite to an award of damages and there was no showing that the warden was personally involved or that the facts justified holding him liable in his supervisory capacity; (2) prison officers who touched prisoner’s hair were entitled to qualified immunity; (3) claim for verbal harassment failed to allege ensuing injury    Case # 999 (S.D.N.Y.). However Case # 999 was vacated in part and affirmed in part in 27 Fed. Appx. 31 (2d Cir. 2001). The district court's decision to dismiss the claim against defendant Sanchez for failure to effect timely service was error. It was also error for the district court to grant the defendants' Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a cause of action. Although the complaint on its face focused on the touching of plaintiff’s hair, it could be read to allege that the corrections officers pulled out portions of plaintiff’s dreadlocks. Circuit precedent held that a policy requiring haircuts of all male inmates upon incarceration violates the free exercise rights of Rastafarians. Benjamin v. Coughlin, 905 F.2d 571, 576-77 (2d Cir. 1990). Because the extension of Benjamin to corrections officers pulling out dreadlocks is straight-forward, dismissal for failure to state a cause of action was inappropriate. However, the district court correctly dismissed the claim against Warden Ortiz as plaintiff failed to allege adequate personal involvement by Ortiz to justify holding him liable under 42 U.S.C. §  1983.)

New York State prisoners were initially prohibited from wearing any facial hair. In the 1980s, in response to litigation by prisoners claiming infringement of their First Amendment free exercise rights, inmates were allowed to maintain a one-inch beard following an initial, clean-shaven, identification photograph. However, pursuant to a “restrictive Directive” facial hair of more than one inch in length was prohibited unless the inmate obtained a court order restraining the enforcement of the governing rule. On January 14, 1997, in response to Congressional passage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the N.Y. State Department of Correctional Services (DOCS) adopted a “permissive Directive” under which an inmate could apply to prison officials for an exemption from the one inch requirement based upon documented membership in a religion which had an established tenet against the trimming of beards, including, but not limited to, inmates who were of the Rastafarian faith. Under the permissive Directive, inmates were not required to go to court to get an order enjoining enforcement of the one-inch rule; they could obtain an exemption simply by applying to the prison officials. In February 1997, plaintiff prisoner, a Rastafarian, applied for and received an exemption from the one-inch beard length requirement. However, on February 1, 1998, in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s holding that RFRA, as applied to the states, was unconstitutional, a Revision Notice was issued restoring the restrictive Directive. Thus, as of February 1, 1998, plaintiff was no longer entitled to have facial hair in excess of one inch in the absence of a court order restraining DOCS from enforcement of its Directive. However, the February 1, 1998, revision allegedly failed to make its way into the official published compilation of DOCS Rules in the New York Official Compilation of Codes, Rules and Regulations, which were provided to inmates. On August 28, 2000, plantiff was ordered to trim his beard by a Corrections Officer, who gave plaintiff a copy of a memorandum dated March 21, 2000, regarding inmate grooming which accurately stated the then-current (restored) restrictive Directive. When plaintiff refused the order, an Inmate Misbehavior Report was filed. Based plaintiff’s claimed lack of notice of the restored restrictive policy, plaintiff was found not guilty and the Inmate Misbehavior Report was dismissed. On the same day as his exoneration, plaintiff was again directed to trim his beard. Upon his refusal, plaintiff was again written up in an Inmate Misbehavior Report and charged with failing to obey an order and with having a beard over one inch in length. This time, plaintiff was found guilty. As punishment plaintiff was confined to his living quarters and lost his recreation, package, commissary and phone privileges for a period of seven days. On September 21, 2000, plaintiff was again directed to shave his beard and, upon his refusal, a third Inmate Misbehavior Report was filed. On September 22, 2000, the day after the events giving rise to the third Inmate Misbehavior Report, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA) was signed into law and became effective. Although the events which formed the basis of the third Inmate Misbehavior Report occurred a day before the effective date of RLUIPA, the administrative heaing was held and sentence imposed after RLUIPA became effective. Plaintiff received six months in the special housing unit (SHU), and a six-month loss of package, commissary and phone privileges. He also lost three months of good time. On October 17, 2000, a memorandum was sent informing superintendents in DOCS of the recent enactment of RLUIPA and stating that, now that RLUIPA was in effect, the the restrictive grooming policy had to be abandoned once again and the permissive policy restored. The very next day, October 18, 2000, the six-month period in SHU imposed upon plaintiff for his September 21, 2000 violation was modified to time served. Similarly, his six-month loss of phone, commissary, and package privileges was converted to twenty-seven days, i.e., the loss he had already incurred, and the good time that had been taken from plaintiff was restored. On February 5, 2001, a formal revision memorializing the RLUIPA change in the law was issued by DOCS and it officially restored the permissive grooming policy. Held: Plaintiff did not have a cause of action under RLUIPA, because he was not ordered to trim his beard while RLUIPA was in effect and RLUIPA did not apply to acts occurring before the effective date of September 22, 2000. Plaintiff was not disciplined for refusing to obey an order that was unlawful when issued. The mere fact that RLUIPA became law after plaintiff violated a lawful order imposed no obligation on DOCS to refrain from imposing disciplinary sanctions or to lift sanctions once they were imposed. Plaintiff was not deprived of due process. Once plaintiff was placed on notice during his first disciplinary hearing of the applicable regulation, there could have been no problem with him understanding what that rule prohibited and what it permitted. In addition, defendants were entitled to qualified immunity   Case # 1894 (E.D.N.Y.)

ThirdCircuit Cases

Plaintiff, a Rastafarian who worked for a county agency, alleged that his employer told him to cut his hair (dreadlocks) in order to conform with its dress policy banning excessively long hair or face being fired. Faced with such alternative, plaintiff allegedly took ill and missed three consecutive days of work. The employer claimed it never told plaintiff to cut his hair, but only gave plaintiff tips on how to maintain and style dreadlocks in a professional manner. In addition, the employer claimed it never was informed of plaintiff’s religious objections to cutting his hair. Defendant’s position was that plaintiff was fired for missing three consecutive days of work without explanation. Plaintiff claimed his employer had implicit knowledge of his religious objection to cutting his hair, and at some point even explicit knowledge. In addition, plaintiff claimed that defendant was in fact contacted during his three day absence and informed of plaintiff’s religious objections to cutting his dreadlocks. Plaintiff’s claim that the county government violated his free exercise of religion rights under the U.S. and New Jersey constitutions was dismissed as defendant’s dress code policy was neutral and generally applicable and was rationally related to the legitimate government objective of prohibiting unprofessional and unconventional appearances. However, plaintiff was allowed to go forward with his claims for religious discrimination in employment under Title VII and the N.J. Law Against Discrimination   Case # 2818 (D. N.J.)

Fourth Circuit Cases

Grooming policy that required all male inmates to keep their hair short and their faces shaven held not to violate free exercise of religion   Case # 267 (4th Cir.)

Challenges to Division of Operations Procedure (DOP) 864 of the Virginia Department of Corrections governing, inter alia, hair and facial hair, did not facially violate the First, Fourth, Eighth, or Fourteenth Amendments    Case # 1073N (E.D. Va.)

Court dismisses male prisoner’s challenge on, inter alia, equal protection grounds, to prison regulation that allows female inmates to have longer hair than male imates    Case # 901N (W.D. Va.)

Rastafarian state prisoner’s allegations regarding incidents in 2001 of deliberate indifference, excessive force and religious persecution (destroying and throwing out religious literature, pulling out hair) gave rise to possible claims under the First and Eighth Amendments. Court also discusses a supervisor’s liability. However, the district court held that defendant prison officers were entitled to qualified immunity as to plaintiff’s claims under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), because defendants could not have known at the time whether RLUIPA could constitutionally be applied to the state’s. But see the editor’s critical comment   Case # 1969 (W.D. Va.)

 Fifth Circuit Cases

Prison grooming policy requiring prisoners to keep their faces clean shaven did not violate First Amendment rights of Muslim for whom wearing a beard was a religious tenet; grooming policy was not religiously discriminatory simply because it allowed prisoners to maintain 3/4 inch beards if necessitated by medical conditions, but disallowed even shorter beards to be worn for religious reasons    Case # 996 (5th Cir.)

Muslim prisoner alleged that a Texas Department of Criminal Justice policy forbidding inmates to wear beards violated his free exercise rights under First Amendment. Plaintiff also alleged that his Muslim beliefs required him to wear a one-quarter-inch beard and that the policy violated his equal protection rights because the grooming policy allowed beards for medical reasons but forbade them for religious purposes. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s dismissal of the free exercise claim, but vacated the district court’s dismissal of the equal protection claim and remanded it for further consideration. Plaintiff’s free exercise claim was foreclosed by Green v. Polunsky, (5th Cir.), Case # 996. Green, however, specifically left open the question whether the regulation unconstitutionally treated similarly situated prisoners differently. Moreover, discriminatory enforcement of facially neutral grooming regulations may, under some circumstances, violate the Equal Protection Clause. Because plaintiff’s claims lacked neither an arguable basis in law or fact, he might have stated a nonfrivolous claim had the district court allowed him the opportunity to develop the factual basis of his claim through a Spears hearing or questionnaire    Case # 1208N (5th Cir. )

 Prison policy that inmates keep their hair no longer than 2 or 3 inches in length did not violate rights of prisoner who objected on religious grounds to cutting his hair; inmate was not entitled to exemption from the regulation on the ground he was to be released in the near future    Case # 847 (W.D. La.)

California Department of Corrections grooming standards required male inmates’ hair to be no “longer than three inches” and to “not extend over the eyebrows or below the top of the shirt collar while standing upright.” In addition, hair was to “be cut around the ears, and sideburns shall be neatly trimmed, and shall not extend below the mid-point of the ear.” Nazarite Christian prisoner’s First Amendment and RLUIPA challenge to the regulation rejected. Court also discusses legitimacy of regulations governing beard length; why half inch beards may be allowed, but not longer beards; why restrictions on hair length for men may be imposed, even though similar restrictions are not placed on women; and why before and after photos for identification purposes may not completely satisfy the state’s identification concerns   Case # 2243 (E.D. Cal.)

Sixth Circuit Cases

Ohio state prisoner, who had converted to Judaism and had become an Orthodox Hasidic Jew, had his beard and sidelocks forcibly cut by prison officials in contravention of the tenets of his religious faith; defendant prison officials were entitled to qualified immunity insofar as plaintiff sought monetary damages because plaintiff’s constitutional right not to have his beard and sidelocks cut was not clearly established at the time of the forced cutting; however, plaintiff was allowed to continue with his action seeking declaratory and injunctive relief against the application of the Ohio prison grooming regulation, having presented a genuine issue of material fact regarding the validity of the defendants' penological justifications for the regulation    Case # 981 (6th Cir.)

A Native American prisoner claimed that prison rules regulating hair length violated his right to practice his religious beliefs in violation of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA). In Case # 1500 (S.D. Ohio), the district court granted preliminary injunctive relief allowing plaintiff, who it considered to be a person who did not pose a significant safety risk, to maintain a “kouplock,” a two inch by two inch square section at the base of the skull grown longer than the person’s remaining hair. In Case # 1754 (6th Cir.),  the Sixth Circuit Court reversed the district court’s decision in light the Sixth Circuit’s decision in Case # 1517 (6th Cir.) (Cutter v. Wilkinson) that RLUIPA was unconstitutional. Subsequently, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the Sixth Circuit’s decision in Cutter, see Case # 1929 (U.S.), and remanded the instant case for further consideration in light of its holding that RLUIPA did not violate the establishment clause of the First Amendment. Now, on remand, the Sixth Circuit panel again reversed the decision of the district court which had granted preliminary injunctive relief to plaintiff, concluding that the district court failed to give proper deference to prison officials with respect to the issue of whether a kouplock presented security, identity, or other concerns. Once prison officials have provided expert testimony sufficient to justify the security regulation and resultant impingement of prisoner rights, the courts must defer to the expert judgment of the prison officials unless the prisoner proves by substantial evidence that the officials have exaggerated their response to security considerations. Here, the district court improperly substituted its judgment for that of prison officials   Case # 2018 (6th Cir.)

Court grants a temporary restraining order enjoining Ohio prison authorities from enforcement of institutional grooming requirements. Inmates alleged that having their sidelocks and beard cut would violate tenets of their Orthodox Chassidic Jewish faith    Case # 1207 (N.D. Ohio)

Seventh Circuit Cases

Plaintiff prisoner – a Moorish-American Muslim, whose religious beliefs prohibited him from cutting his hair, and who consequently wore his hair in shoulder length dreadlocks – had his hair forcibly cut by prison officials. The court refused to grant defendant prison officials summary judgment dismissing plaintiff’s claims under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), the free exercise clause of the First Amendment, and the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The prison grooming policy was without question facially valid, being in furtherance of the prison’s compelling security and safety interests. However, defendants’ summary judgment evidence did not address plaintiff’s allegations that the grooming policy, as applied to him, violated his rights or was unequally applied. Pursuant to the terms of the prison grooming policy, there had to be a finding that the hair of the particular prisoner posed a security concern and that the warden approved of the forcible hair cutting of that individual prisoner. Defendants produced no such evidence. Nor did their summary judgment evidence address plaintiff’s allegation that prison officials allowed other inmates to keep hair styles similar to his, such as dreadlocks, braids, and long hair and that he was singled out and treated differently based on his religion. Defendants were not entitled to qualified immunity   Case # 1773N (N.D. Ill.)

Rastafarian state prisoner. Inmates were not prohibited from wearing braids or dreadlocks or from keeping their hair long but were barred from keeping their hair bound up only when being transferred between facilities. Merely trying to convince prisoner to cut his hair or telling him not to “start” dreadlocks did not violate prisoner’s First Amendment rights and claim based on said facts was dismissed. However, court refuses to dismiss claim based on prison officials’ refusal to take inmate to a doctor’s appointment unless he cut his hair   Case # 1971 (W.D. Wis.)

The rights of an inmate in a Secure Program Facility were not violated when, inter alia, defendants refused to transport him outside the prison for a medical appointment unless he combed out his dreadlocks. If he could not comb out the dreadlocks, he had to cut them. Plaintiff’s failure to complete a religious preference form was not probative of the sincerity of his claimed Rastafarian beliefs, because Rastafarians apparently did not engage in congregate services and there was thus no practical need to complete the form   Case # 2231 (W.D. Wis.)

Eighth Circuit Cases

Claim by state prisoner, a Rastafarian, that an intermittent, unexplained prison requirement that he cut his hair was religiously offensive was not frivolous    Case # 559 (8th Cir.). On remand, it was held that the First Amendment rights of plaintiff prisoner, a Rastafarian, were not violated when he was required to cut his hair as a condition of continuing in a drug treatment program. See Cofer v. Schirro, 2001 U.S. App. Lexis 19295 (8th Cir. 2001) (unpublished opinion)

Ninth Circuit Cases

Native American in minimum security prison challenged a California Department of Corrections (CDC) hair grooming policy requiring that all male inmates maintain their hair no longer than three inches. There was no exception for religious adherents whose faith prohibited them from cutting their hair. Plaintiff was subjected to a series of administrative punishments designed to coerce him into compliance. The district court denied plaintiff’s request for a preliminary injunction, reasoning that because CDC had not forcibly cut plaintiff’s hair and had no intention of doing so before his release, it was questionable whether plaintiff had suffered a constitutional injury. Because plaintiff was scheduled to be released in 18 days, the district court concluded that the balance of hardships did not weigh in plaintiff’s favor and there was no need for a preliminary injunction. The Ninth Circuit reversed. RLUIPA required the CDC to use the least restrictive means necessary to achieve its compelling interest in prison safety and security. The grooming policy at issue here was sweeping: it applied to all male inmates, but not to female inmates, regardless of a female inmate’s security threat. The grooming policy did nothing to distinguish between inmates housed at maximum security facilities and those low level offenders in minimum security institutions. Moreover, even outside the context of a minimum security facility, CDC could not meet its burden to prove least restrictive means because it failed to demonstrate that it had actually considered and rejected the efficacy of less restrictive measures before adopting the challenged practice. Equally problematic for CDC was that other prison systems, including the Federal Bureau of Prisons, did not have such hair length policies or, if they did, provided religious exemptions. The failure of CDC to explain why other institutions with the same compelling interests were able to accommodate the same religious practices may in itself have constituted a failure to establish that the CDC was using the least restrictive means   Case # 2049 (9th Cir.)

California Department of Corrections grooming regulations prohibiting male inmates from wearing their hair long was upheld as being reasonably related to legitimate penological interests, even though cutting the hair of plaintiff prisoner, a Native American, would involve a strict religious prohibition involving the sanctity and purity of the body which would, in the sincerely held belief of plaintiff, render him unworthy or unable to participate in other major practices of his religion, like pipe ceremonies and sweat lodge, and require him to destroy the religious items in his possession, thereby denying him all means of religious expression.. Plaintiff did not state an actionable claim under the American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978, 42 U.S.C. § 1996, which was simply a policy statement that did not provide a means of legal recourse for any tribe or individual   Case # 1718N (9th Cir.)

Muslim prisoner could be denied the right to scented oils, the right to wear a head covering at all times, and the right to wear a beard; prisoner not denied equal protection simply because the prison did not provide a clergyman for the prisoner’s sect, or because other inmates could receive religious articles, such as crosses, rosaries, and yarmulkes from their families   Case # 354 (D. Ariz.)

Eleventh Circuit Cases

Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC) policies requiring Native American prisoner to cut his hair and denying him the ability to possess religious materials such as tobacco, sage, cedar, sweetgrass, beads, leather, thread, needles, and feathers, did not violate the First Amendment free exercise clause or the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA). Plaintiff could not assert his equal protection claim that the FDOC was more accommodating to Christians and other religious faiths, because he failed to exhaust administrative remedies. The fact that exhaustion of administrative remedies may have been futile or inadequate was no excuse. FDOC’s Native American religion program to provide staff and inmates with guidelines to better enable inmates to practice their faith was not an unconstitutional establishment of religion   Case # 1970 (11th Cir.)

D.C. Circuit

Plaintiffs represent a class of prisoners whose avowed religious faiths had doctrines which plaintiffs believed forbade them (or anyone else) from cutting their hair or shaving their beards, or both. They were convicted in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia or the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, were committed to the custody of the District of Columbia Department of Corrections or the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), and were serving their sentences in facilities operated by the Virginia Department of Corrections (VDOC) in the Commonwealth of Virginia, whose grooming policy required male inmates to cut their hair so it was no longer than one inch in length or depth and prohibited beards and dreadlocks. The policy included an exemption for prisoners with medical objections. VDOC officials did not consider religious objections to be a valid basis for noncompliance with the grooming policy. An inmate who refused to comply with the grooming policy was subject to disciplinary reports, administrative segregation, increases in security and custody level, loss of prison employment, exclusion from programming, and loss of privileges such as visitation, commissary, and telephone. BOP’s non-VDOC facilities provided a less restrictive alternative. Initially, the district court held that defendants were entitled to judgment because plaintiffs failed to exhaust their administrative remedies. See court’s lengthy discussion of the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) codified in part at 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). In addition, the district court held that though the VDOC grooming policy substantially burdened plaintiffs’ sincerely held religious beliefs, it was the least restrictive means to effectuate the prison’s compelling interests in prison security, gang elimination, inmate identification, and health and sanitation and VDOC's grooming policy violated neither the Free Exercise Clause or the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), 42 U.S.C. § 2000bb et seq. The district court rejected the notion that the PLRA’s exhaustion of administrative remedies requirement does not apply to the RFRA    Case # 899N (D. D.C.). However, portions of the district court decision regarding the merits were vacated and the matter remanded with instructions to dismiss the complaint without prejudice on the ground that the prisoners failed to exhaust their administrative remedies, see Case # 2395 (D.C. Cir.).  Subsequently, the district court held that the BOP’s decision to house plaintiffs in VDOC prisons rather than in BOP prisons violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which continued to be applicable to federal officials and agencies. BOP’S contention that its non-VDOC facilities were not available to house class members was contrary to the evidence. Before designating any inmate to a VDOC institution, BOP was to consider each inmate’s religious beliefs and practices and, to the extent those beliefs and practices would be burdened by the VDOC grooming policy, that factor was to militate against BOP designating that inmate to a VDOC institution. BOP was also ordered to evaluate whether the grooming policy of VDOC burdened the religious beliefs and practices of each of its inmates housed in a VDOC institution and if a BOP inmate’s religious beliefs and practices were found to be burdened by the VDOC grooming policy, BOP was to promptly transfer that inmate out of VDOC. All disciplinary action imposed on any BOP prisoner as a result of the refusal to comply with the VDOC grooming policy was to be expunged from any BOP record    Case # 1501N (D.D.C.)

State Cases

Trial court's order entered in defendant prison inmate’s criminal case, which order prohibited the Department of Corrections (DOC) from cutting defendant’s hair based on defendant’s religious beliefs, was quashed as the DOC was not given notice of the proceedings through which the order was entered. In addition, the trial court lacked authority in to regulate the treatment of a sentenced defendant in the prison system    Case # 900N (Fla. Dist. Ct. App.)

Muslim prisoner claimed that Florida Administrative Rule requiring inmates to be clean-shaven and to submit to forced shaving if they refused was a substantial burden on his exercise of Islam and thus prohibited by Florida’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). The trial court committed error in first denying he prisoner’s request for a declaratory statement ruling that declaratory judgment was not the proper remedy and then in denying the prisoner’s petition for a writ of mandamus on the ground that the prisoner should have made his request in an action for declaratory relief. The District Court of Appeal directed the circuit court to construe the prisoner’s petition for writ of mandamus as one for declaratory relief, and to address the merits of his claim under Florida’s RFRA. The Court recognized that courts had previously confirmed the validity of the portions of the Administrative Rule that regulated hair length. Those cases, however, did not resolve the issue raised with regard to beard length, because hair or beards that are never cut, at issue in the previous cases, may raise significantly greater security concerns than the quarter-inch beard petitioner sought to grow. In addition, the lower court committed error when it declared the prisoner an indigent and placed a $ 280 lien on his prison account to cover the court’s filing fee, pursuant to the Prison Indigency Statute, Fla. Stat. § 57.085(5). Section 57.085(10) provided that the statute “does not apply to a criminal proceeding or a collateral criminal proceeding.” An action that results in a loss of gain time is a “collateral criminal proceeding,” because such action effectively lengthens an inmate’s sentence. Here, the prisoner lost gain time as a consequence of his refusal to shave. Any challenge to discipline that results in a loss of gain time is a collateral criminal proceeding. The fact that the prisoner was serving a life sentence that could not be shortened was of no consequence   Case # 2103 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App.)

Court upholds ban on inmates wearing corn row braids if the inmate’s hair fell below the natural hairline. Corn row hair style was permitted, provided it was worn close to the scalp. There was no evidence to suggest that the prohibition of corn row braids was racially motivated   Case # 2001 (N.Y. Sup. Ct.)

Prisoner, who allegedly was both a Native American and a transsexual suffering from a psychological gender identity disorder, was not entitled, on free exercise of religion grounds, to wear long hair; nor did the prisoner, who objected to lack of privacy in showering, changing clothes, using the toilet, and during pat down searches, state a cause of action either under the First Amendment (modesty allegedly being a religious tenet) or the Fourth, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments    Case # 747 (Ohio Ct. App.)

Pennsylvania prison regulations did not, in general, limit the length of a prisoners hair so long as it did not fall below the top of the collar. However, in the case  of “Afro styles” hair length was limited to four inches. The regulations did not define “Afro styles.” Petitioner, a Hebrew Isrealite/Nazarite who wore dreadlocks, sought a declaration of his rights and an order enjoining the Department of Corrections from enforcing its grooming policy against him and the court refused to dismiss, as a matter of law, petitioner’s equal protection and free exercise of religion claims   Case # 1717N (Pa. Commw. Ct.)

Prison policy of not allowing inmates to grow beards, except for legitimate medical reasons, did not violate Muslim prisoner’s free exercise rights and equal protection rights under the U.S. Constitution, the Texas Government Code, or the Texas Constitution; prison officials entitled to qualified and official immunity    Case # 587 (Tex. App.)

See also:

Prison Inmates



Defendant school district’s grooming policy provided that “[b]oys’ hair shall not cover any part of the ear or touch the top of the standard collar in back.” Plaintiff elementary school student of Native American descent whose hair had never been cut, insisted on wearing his hair uncut and long, in two braids. The school district offered plaintiff two alternative accommodations: (1) he could wear his uncut, long hair in a bun on top of his head or (2) in a single braid tucked into his shirt. Plaintiff and his parents rejected the accommodations, insisting that the full length of the hair be visible outside of the shirt. When plaintiff, while in kindergarten, persisted in wearing his hair in two long braids outside his shirt, he was placed on in-school suspension where he received one-on-one instruction and thirty minutes of recess a day. During in-school suspension he was not allowed to socialize with other children. The complaint alleged a violation of plaintiff student’s rights to the free exercise of religion and free speech under the First Amendment; a violation of plaintiff student’s rights under the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act (TRFRA); and a violation of the parents’ Fourteenth Amendment due process right to raise their child according to their Native American religion and heritage. Addressing only the TRFRA, a divided Fifth Circuit panel held that the TRFRA rights of plaintiff student had been violated and the student had a right to wear his hair in two braids, uncoveredvisibly long with the full length of the braids visible outside his shirt. The Court held that plaintiff student established a sincere religious belief in wearing his uncut hair visibly long. Although forcing plaintiff to comply with the accommodations offered by the school district would have curtailed plaintiff’s religious exercise only while he was at school, a burden imposing a less-than-complete ban is nonetheless substantial under TRFRA if it curtails religious conduct and impacts religious expression to a “significant” and “real” degree. Here, the burden on plaintiff was significant, because, while the school district did not completely bar plaintiff’s free exercise, the bar was complete in the sense that plaintiff could not wear his hair visibly long at all during the school day, a critical period of time in a young child’s development. In addition, if plaintiff complied with either of the school district’s proffered accommodations he would stand out as someone subject to official stigma. If he did comply with the proffered accommodations, plaintiff would be exposed to disciplinary punishment, forcing plaintiff to choose between attending the district’s public schools and following his religious beliefs. Although TRFRA permits the regulation of free exercise if the government has a compelling interest that justifies the burden and the government has adopted the least restrictive means of achieving that interest, such was not the case here. The school district’s grooming policy and the proffered accommodations did not advance the articulated goals of teaching hygiene, instilling discipline, preventing disruption, avoiding safety hazards, and asserting authority. See the court’s extended discussion on each of these goals. And had the district succeeded in presenting specific evidence connecting its concerns to plaintiff’s request for an exemption, any connection was weakened by the district’s decision to permit girls to wear their hair visibly long. Again, see the court’s extended discussion. The dissent asserted that plaintiffs only asserted a religious belief in not cutting the hair and that the school district’s proffered accommodations protected that belief   Case # 4055 (5th Cir.)



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