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North Carolina Prison Guard Sues Over Religious Discrimination

by Monte McCoin

As PLN has reported numerous times, before the Supreme Court’s ruling in Holt v. Hobbs, 135 S.Ct. 853 (2015) [PLN, Aug. 2015, p.50], Muslim prisoners were routinely denied their right to grow a beard as required by the tenets of their faith. [See, e.g.: PLN, June 2006, p.33; June 2005, p.30; Oct. 1996, p.19].

On June 25, 2018, prison guard Keith Hyman, employed at the Polk Correctional Institution, filed federal and state discrimination complaints against the North Carolina Department of Public Safety (NCDPS) in an attempt to exercise that same basic right. Hyman, a Muslim, was told he had to shave his beard.

According to the complaints, “Polk is selectively enforcing its Facial Hair Grooming Policy to target Mr. Hyman because of his faith. Specifically, Mr. Hyman is aware of at least another Polk employee with a beard at least if not longer than his. The other Polk employee is not being forced to shave.” 

The complaints detailed an investigation triggered by Hyman’s requests for religious accommodation. Hyman said he was told that unless he shaved his beard, he would be written up “until they fired him for insubordination.” The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), which intervened on Hyman’s behalf, claimed an unnamed internal investigator called their client a racial slur and said “if [Hyman] had not asked for the religious accommodation that he could have simply kept his beard without any issues.” 

In a news release, CAIR attorney Ahmed Mohamed added, “NCDPS engaged in racist, bigoted action and has set up Mr. Hyman to be fired for simply requesting a religious accommodation.”

Of course, if that is how prison officials treat their own employees, one can only imagine how prisoners are treated when they seek to enforce their religious rights. 



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