The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit ruled that the Virginia Department of Corrections was violating the religious beliefs of an incarcerated man by restricting his use of a head covering, reported The Washington Post on Nov. 8.
A three-judge panel ruled unanimously the department’s policy required the incarcerated man in question, David Richardson, “to either violate his religious beliefs — by refraining from wearing a head covering at all times — or risk discipline.”
Before Richardson’s suit, the agency gave its individual prisons authority to decide policies regarding head coverings, said The Post.
Policies at the Deerfield Correctional Center in Capron required residents to remove head coverings in various locations, including the chow hall, administrative buildings and visiting rooms unless wearing the head cover was part of “an approved religious activity.”
Following the Richardson lawsuit, Virginia’s Department of Corrections changed their policy to allow residents to wear their head coverings anywhere in the prison as long as they removed them upon request to be searched, The Post reports.
In a previous ruling, Judge Henry E. Hudson wrote that the policy governing head coverings was not unduly burdensome on Richardson since he “retained the ability to wear a head covering in many areas of the prison” and that the “restrictions were rationally related to the penological objective of security and policing for contraband.”
The Appellate Court overrode Hudson’s decision, stating that “Richardson holds a sincerely held belief that his religion requires that he wear a head covering at all times and in all places. Deerfield’s head covering policy placed Richardson between the proverbial rock and a hard place.”
Richardson continues to pursue a court order to stop the Virginia prison from reverting to its previous policy on head coverings. An attorney for the state told the court that the “ability to change a policy certainly exists.” However, the attorney also stated that the department “has no intention to go back.”