Tuesday, May 12, 2020
Keeping an Eye on Holt v. Kelley
As recent posts have noted, there is no shortage of religious freedom cases at the Supreme Court this May. However, another significant religious freedom case continues its fight in the Eastern District of Arkansas.
Gregory Holt has returned to federal court after his historic success in Holt v. Hobbs, now more than five years ago. Once again, he is represented by Professor Doug Laycock. Holt now claims that the Arkansas Department of Corrections failed to accommodate his Islamic religious practices by unlawfully preventing its Muslim inmates from observing separate prayer services according to their faith and movement. Instead, prisoners are effectively forced to choose between combining their religious services with other Islamic groups or abstaining from group services altogether.
Specifically, Holt claims that the Department of Corrections violated RLUIPA, as well as the First and Fourteenth Amendments, by prohibiting separate Jumu’ah services for its inmates. Practitioners of various Islamic groups must pray together as one group, or not at all. Furthermore, the prison prohibits its Muslim prisoners from wearing kufis outside of their religious worship.
At its core, this case raises questions about religious accommodation, the extent of deference to prison officials, and the need to distinguish between sincerely held beliefs. It has the potential to address some of the most fundamental religious protections for prisoners. For now, the case fights on in federal district court. It is worth keeping an eye on “Holt II,” even with the Supreme Court’s busy docket and live oral arguments.
See Holt v. Kelley, No. 5:19-cv-00081 (E.D. Ark. filed Mar. 1, 2019).