Bench Memos

NRO’s home for judicial news and analysis.

Strange Bedfellows Support Religious Freedom


The biggest religious liberty case coming up in next year’s Supreme Court term is Holt v. Hobbs, which involves a prisoner who is prohibited from growing a half-inch beard in accordance with his faith. Holt is represented by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and University of Virginia law professor Doug Laycock.

A broad coalition from across the political spectrum has filed amicus briefs in support of Mr. Holt: the U.S. government, Alliance Defending Freedom, the ACLU, Prison Fellowship Ministries (originally founded by Evangelical Chuck Colson), Islamic law scholars, Christian Legal Society, Jewish organizations, the Catholic bishops, the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board, the Anti-Defamation League, and even Americans United for the Separation of Church and State.

These groups’ unity shows that freedom of religion has broad support across the political spectrum, and shows how fringe-y arguments seeking to limit it really are. Amici agree that religious freedom extends even to how and whether an individual prisoner can wear a beard in prison according to his faith. That’s a staggering level of agreement for such a potentially contentious issue.

Although these amici ended up on both sides of Hobby Lobby/Conestoga Wood Specialties, they at least agree that religious exercise has an individual dimension that demands the strictest scrutiny. After all, they recognize why the law protects religious expression in the first place: because it’s a human right.


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