Critical topic! Justices signal support for Muslim inmate’s beard – US

05b044a47116d727610f6a706700679eThis undated photo provided by the Arkansas Department of Correction shows prison inmate Gregory Holt. On Tuesday, Oct. 7, 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court will take up the case of Holt, who says his Muslim beliefs require him to grow a half-inch beard. Arkansas prison officials permit no beards, with the exception of inmates with certain skin conditions, who can have beards a quarter-inch long. (AP Photo/Arkansas Department of Correction)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Supreme Court justices appeared united Tuesday as they picked apart prison rules in Arkansas that allow full Afros and mustaches, but no beards, in a case about a Muslim inmate’s claim that his religious beliefs require that he be allowed to keep a half-inch beard.

The court heard arguments in its first religious liberty case since the Hobby Lobby case bitterly divided the justices in June over whether family-owned corporations could mount religious objections to paying for women’s contraceptives under the health care overhaul.

There was no such division evident in the courtroom Tuesday as several justices were openly skeptical of arguments made by a lawyer for Arkansas in defense of the state’s no-beard policy, which has no exception for religious beliefs.

The state has a legitimate security interest in prohibiting beards because prisoners can hide items in them and change their appearance by shaving, Arkansas Deputy Attorney General David Curran said…