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. 

Reversing a lower court ruling, the appeals court ruled that the DOC’s grooming policies violate RLUIPA. The court concluded that, “DOC failed to meet its burden under RLUIPA of showing both that its grooming policies serve a compelling interest and that they are the least restrictive means of serving any such interest.”
 
“This is a victory for our client and for all Louisianans who cherish their religious freedom,” said Marjorie Esman, ACLU of Louisiana Executive Director. “All people, including those in prison, have a fundamental right to express their religious beliefs free from discrimination. Our client Christopher Ware took a brave stand against an unjust policy, and today that policy has been struck down.”

 

Attorney(s)

Bruce Hamilton, Andrea W. Trento, Allison A. Jones, Catherine Schmierer, Daniel Mach, David N. Fautsch

Pro Bono Law Firm(s)

Hogan Lovells LLP

Date filed

May 1, 2017

Court

Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals

Status

Victory!

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