UPDATED July 28, 2017 — VICTORY!
The ACLU of Louisiana is representing Christopher Ware, a Rastafarian prisoner whose religious beliefs require that he wear his hair in dreadlocks and whose rights would be violated by DOC’s grooming policies, which prohibit dreadlocks.
“The right to religious freedom doesn’t end at the jailhouse door,” said Marjorie Esman, ACLU of Louisiana Executive Director. “That’s why federal law protects prisoners from religious discrimination and why the ACLU will continue to defend the rights of all people to express their religious beliefs.”
The Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, passed by Congress in 2000, prohibits religious discrimination against incarcerated people and requires that any burdens on prisoners’ rights serve a compelling state interest and be imposed through the least restrictive means possible.
After a District Court ruled in favor of DOC in 2014, the ACLU of Louisiana appealed that ruling, noting that 39 states – and even DOC’s own guidelines for parish jails – impose less restrictive grooming policies.
On July 5, 2017, lead counsel Andrea Trento of Hogan Lovells LLP presented oral arguments before the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.
On July 28, 2017, the US Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana and ruled that the state Department of Corrections’ (DOC) prohibition on dreadlocks violated the rights of their client, Christopher Ware.