American flag waving in blue sky
Written by Don Byrd
Last week the ACLU sent a letter to the Wyoming Department of Corrections requesting they revise a policy that prohibits inmates from wearing a yarmulke outside their cell or in religious services. Under RLUIPA, such a rule may substantially burden an inmate’s religious exercise only if it is necessary to achieve a compelling government interest. Assuring that inmates are afforded basic religious accommodations, the ACLU writes, is exactly why RLUIPA was adopted.

From the ACLU’s Blog of Rights:

The WDOC cited generic “security concerns” for its refusal to grant Mr. Fisher’s request to wear a kippah in accordance with his religious beliefs, but have offered no evidence, as required by RLUIPA, to support their claim. In fact, when prisoners are outside, they can wear baseball caps and hats purchased at the prison commissary. What kind of contraband could be hidden in a kippah but not a baseball cap?

Nor did prison officials explain why other, less restrictive measures (e.g., subjecting kippahs to searches) could not address any real security concerns that may be associated with religious headdress. Many prisons across the country, including those governed by the Federal Bureau of Prisons, allow prisoners to wear kippahs at all times and throughout the facilities without problems. Are the security concerns at the WDOC so unique that they cannot adopt similar policies?

You can read the letter here.