By Associated Press - Tuesday, May 3, 2016

DALLAS (AP) - A federal appeals court panel has upheld a Texas prison inmate’s right to a beard and skullcap as required by his religious beliefs.

In a 32-page opinion filed Monday, a three-judge 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel in New Orleans unanimously upheld a lower-court ruling that David Rasheed Ali should be allowed to grow a 4-inch beard and wear a knit skullcap, called a kufi, as his faith demands.

Ali is a Muslim inmate at the state’s Michael Unit in East Texas near Palestine, where he is serving four concurrent 20-year prison sentences for arson, criminal mischief and aggravated robbery.

The opinion written by Appeals Judge Edward Prado said that the Texas ban on inmates having 4-inch beards and religious headwear outside a cell or religious service violates a 2015 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in an Arkansas inmate’s case.

Texas officials had argued that its ban was needed for security purposes, that beards and caps could facilitate the smuggling of contraband and distort the identities of inmates and potential escapees.

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice, which operates the prison system, is reviewing the ruling, said spokesman Jason Clark. The department declined further comment.

In the Arkansas case, the Supreme Court ruled that a Muslim inmate could maintain a half-inch beard because prison officials there could not substantiate its security claims. In the 5th Circuit Court opinion, Prado wrote that experts called by Texas to support its security claims were not credible and that beards and caps would still be subject to search.

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