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Wayne Law religious freedom expert files U.S. Supreme Court brief

June 9, 2014

DETROIT – The right for a Muslim inmate to wear a beard is before the U.S. Supreme Court, and Wayne State University Law School Associate Professor Christopher C. Lund is weighing in.

On Thursday, May 29, Lund filed an amicus brief on behalf of five North American Islamic scholars to explain to the court the religious importance to Muslims to be able to wear a beard. The Supreme Court case is Gregory Houston Holt aka Abdul Maalik Muhammad v. Ray Hobbs, director, Arkansas Department of Correction, et al. – better known as Holt v. Hobbs. The Arkansas prison system bans inmates from having beards for security reasons, although more than 40 states and the federal government allow beards in their prisons.

In March, the court agreed to hear the religious freedom case, which was filed in September by Holt in a hand-written petition asking the justices to hear the case.

He claims prison policy infringes on his ability to practice his Muslim faith and violates a 1993 federal law, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, which forbids prisons from imposing burdens that keep inmates from practicing their religion unless there is a compelling reason. Holt seeks a compromise that would allow him to wear a half-inch beard, according to Virginia School of Law Professor Douglas Laycock, a religious freedom expert who will argue the case for Holt. Prison officials argue that even half-inch beards can conceal small weapons and state that they don’t want the burden of monitoring the length of inmates’ beards.

Lund’s 18-page brief explains the background and the traditional religious obligation for Muslims to follow the hadith, a collection of sayings of the prophet Muhammad and a major source of guidance for observant Muslims across various schools of Islam, and cites examples of multiple hadith calling for observant Muslim men to wear beards.

“This case raises important questions of law, but it also raises important questions about religion and Islam in particular,” Lund wrote in the brief.

Lund is an often-cited legal expert on religious liberty. He has represented a wide variety of groups and causes. He has, for example, worked for the American Civil Liberties Union defending the rights of Christian parents to homeschool their children and for a diverse coalition of religious groups supporting the freedom of Muslim detainees at Guantanamo Bay.

He regularly advises church-state groups regarding litigated cases and pending legislation. He is a past chair of the Law and Religion Section of the Association of American Law Schools and past chair of the Section on New Law Professors. Lund earned his law degree from the University of Texas School of Law.

In the Holt v. Hobbs brief, Lund is representing Islamic scholars:

  • Jonathan A. Brown, associate professor of Islamic studies and Muslim-Christian understanding at Georgetown University.
  • Khaled M. Abou El Fadl, the Omar and Azmeralda Alfi Professor of Law at the University of California, Los Angeles, School of Law.
  • John L. Esposito, professor of religion and international affairs and Islamic studies at Georgetown University.
  • Mohammad Fadel, Canada research chair for the Law and Economics of Islamic Law and associate professor of law at the University of Toronto.
  • Ingrid Mattson, London and Windsor community chair in Islamic studies at the University of Western Ontario.

The court will hear arguments and decide the case in its next term, which starts in October and ends in July 2015.

Photo: Christopher C. Lund