A man serving a life sentence was given the green light to grow a beard while in prison due to his religious belief, despite the Florida Department of Corrections’ grooming policy, according to reports.
The decision came after the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a ruling that Durell Sims, a Muslim man housed at South Bay Correctional Facility, could keep his facial hair, according to WUWF-TV. It dismissed the DOC’s arguments that Sims didn’t pursue all administrative procedures before moving forward with a lawsuit related to the matter.
Sims, serving time for attempted murder, previously filed a lawsuit against the secretary of the state DOC, challenging the beard policy, which only allows the hair to grow a half-inch or remain clean-shaven, the McClatchy Washington Bureau reported.
He pointed out that the department’s policy was in violation of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act — which in part prohibits imposing burdens on people’s religious practices. One of his lawyers said that the victory could help other incarcerated seeking exceptions due to their faith.
“The Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act protects religious freedom for all,” Olivia Kelman said, according to the McClatchy Washington Bureau. “And so the importance of this is that folks who have various religious beliefs are entitled to exceptions that meet the standards of the law in order to practice and fulfill their religious beliefs, even while incarcerated, and that was the intent of Congress to provide for religious freedom of inmates who are incarcerated.”
Prior to filing the lawsuit, Sims tried to rectify the issue internally three times, the outlet reported. He first filled out an informal grievance form, which was rejected by the facility chaplain. A formal grievance was denied, and when he attempted to appeal with the department secretary, he wasn’t successful.
“In short, Florida’s grievance procedures do not require that a prisoner file a petition to initiate rulemaking,” the ruling penned by judge Britt Grant said, per WUWF. “Florida’s process instead requires just three things: an informal grievance, a formal grievance, and an appeal to the [corrections] secretary.”