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MO Hair Cut Rule Violates RFRA

In the June, 1994 issue of PLN we reported passage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) 42 U.S.C. § 2000bb and predicted that many states "grooming rules" which ban beards long hair etc. would likely be found unlawful under it. While we have reported several RFRA cases since then, virtually all of them victories for the prisoner plaintiff, the first haircut ban has been struck down.

Mark Hamilton is a Native American prisoner held in the Missouri state prison system. He filed suit in order to practice his Native American religion, specifically he challenged the lack of sweat lodge ceremonies, being forced to cut his hair, being denied sweet grass, feathers, beads, necklaces and other items necessary for his religious practices. During the pendency of the litigation the RFRA was signed into law and the court ruled on this case on the merits under the RFRA.

The court discussed the RFRA and noted that it was specifically applicable to prison ligation. It also noted that the Missouri DOC practices challenged in this case had previously been upheld as constitutional in other pre-RFRA cases. Proceeding to the merits of the case the court held that Hamilton had stated a claim for relief and prison officials had failed to show that their hair cut rules and denials of sweat lodges etc. furthered any compelling governmental interest in security or safety.

The court noted that other maximum security prisons in various states allow sweat lodge ceremonies without compromising prison security. The court noted that female prisoners in Missouri are allowed to have long hair, moreover, no evidence was presented that identification of prisoners with long hair was a problem nor was any evidence shown that anyone has actually hidden contraband in their hair.

In finding the defendants actions unreasonable the court emphasized that they did not make any inquiry into the problems their policies posed for practitioners of Native American religions; they did not contact any Native American religious leaders to discuss the feasibility of Hamiltons requests nor did they conduct a cost analysis of the funds required to comply with Hamiltons requests.

The court ordered that "defendants be enjoined from enforcing against plaintiff hair length regulations and grooming policies which burden the exercise of Plaintiffs Native American religion." The court also ordered that weekly sweat lodge ceremonies be made available as well as other actions needed to allow Hamilton to practice his religion. The court also awarded attorney fees. See: Hamilton v. Schriro, 863 F. Supp. 1019 (WD MO 1994).

Volume 9, No. 4 of the National Prison Project Journal had a lengthy article on legal developments in prison litigation under the RFRA. It cites numerous cases decided under the RFRA discusses legal standards and litigation strategy. Their address is listed on page 20 of this issue of PLN.

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Related legal case

Hamilton v. Schiro

MARK JUAN HAMILTON, Plaintiff, v. DR. DORA SCHRIRO, et al., Defendants.

No. 91-4373-CV-C-5


863 F. Supp. 1019; 1994 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 14865

May 11, 1994, Decided

May 11, 1994, Filed

PRIOR HISTORY: [**1] Adopting Magistrate's Document of April 13, 1994, Reported at: 1994 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 14885.

COUNSEL: For MARK JUAN HAMILTON, plaintiff: David G. Ott, Brinker, Doyen, & Kovacs, P.C., Clayton, MO.

For DORA SCHRIRO, PAUL DELO, JODY JACKSON, defendants: Greg A. Perry, Missouri Attorney General's Office, Jefferson City, MO.




[*1020] ORDER

Magistrate Judge William A. Knox entered his Report and Recommendation in the above-styled cause on April 13, 1994. Defendants filed exceptions to the Report and Recommendation on May 2, 1994. pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C), this Court will adopt the Report and Recommendation with the modification set forth below.

Magistrate Judge Knox recommended, and this Court will order by adoption, that accommodations be made by defendants to allow plaintiff to practice his native American Religion, including the right to have a weekly sweat lodge ceremony. The Court believes the parties are in the best position to fashion the specific means by which this remedy shall be effectuated. Accordingly, the parties will be ordered to meet and arrive at a compromise acceptable to each of the parties. The parties will then submit a summation of the compromise to the Court for approval.

The Court expects the parties [**2] to engage in good faith negotiations and arrive at an agreement. However, if the parties are not able to reach an agreement, each party shall inform the Court of its final position and the Court will conduct a telephone conference to resolve the points of dispute.

Accordingly, it is hereby

ORDERED that the Report and Recommendation of Magistrate Judge Knox, entered April 13, 1994, is accepted by this court with the following modification. On or before June 6, 1994, the parties shall meet and discuss the specific means by which the ordered accommodation shall be effectuated. In the event an agreement is reached, the parties shall submit a joint summation of the compromise to the Court on or before June 13, 1994. In the event an agreement cannot be reached, the parties shall submit their final positions to the Court on or before June 13, 1994.


Senior United States District Judge

May 11, 1994