The Raving Theist

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Court “Upbraids” Inmate for Seeking Faith-Based Haircut Exemption

April 12, 2006 | 14 Comments

Upholding prison regulations requiring inmates to maintain their hair shoulder length or shorter, a federal appeals court yesterday rejected a Wiccan inmate’s argument that trimming her waist-length braids would violate her Constitutional right to religious freedom.

Raven Nightfeather, serving a one-year sentence for credit card fraud, claimed that her hairstyle was “an outward manifestation of [her] inner commitment to the Spiritual Path” and insisted that a haircut would constitute a “defilement.”

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed, relying on a recent precedent vindicating a three-inch hair limit for men. In that case, the court recognized a “legitimate penological interest in the enforcement of uniform grooming standards” insofar as longer hair facilitated the concealment of contraband, contributed to hygienic problems including lice, made prisoner identification more difficult, and otherwise increased the costs of maintaining institutional discipline.

The court found Mrs. Nightfeather’s case “indistinguishable” and stated that health, safety and economic concerns “far outweighed petitioner’s mystical attachment to her braids.” The sixteen-page ruling emphasized that granting her a special exemption based upon her religion would unfairly discriminate against non-religious prisoners who wished to wear their hair long for aesthetic reasons.

The decision further authorized prison officials to administer RU486 to abort Nightfeather’s four-week-old fetus. “Petitioner’s subjective views regarding the humanity of the cell mass cannot trump the prison’s interest in avoiding the increased nutritional and medical expenses associated with pregnancy,” said the court. Noting that Mrs. Nightfeather could make similarly irrational claims regarding the humanity of her hair follicles, the panel stated that it would be no more obliged to accept them that it would had she expressed a maternal attachment to headlice clinging to her scalp.

“In short,” concluded the court, “the Constitution does not require us accord heightened moral status to a body parasite to accommodate petitioner’s fanciful belief in sperm magic.”


14 Responses to “Court “Upbraids” Inmate for Seeking Faith-Based Haircut Exemption”

  1. Mookie
    April 13th, 2006 @ 2:50 am

    Funny how that’s the state trodding on rights, whilst your stance similarly trods on the right of females to make their own choices. Like peas in a pod.

  2. Hazelip
    April 13th, 2006 @ 4:30 am

    I can find no mention of this, or similar, news story anywhere. Please provide a citation.

  3. salvage
    April 13th, 2006 @ 4:50 am

    Hahahahahahaha! Women are just like prisoners!

    Hey Sparky when you have a womb you can decide what you do with it ‘kay?

    I know this is supposed to be a satire site but can you maybe flag the posts that are supposed to be y’know, funny?

  4. TheSnake
    April 13th, 2006 @ 7:14 am

    Considering that they force feed prisoners, forcing an abortion doesn’t seem any more (im)moral.

  5. TheSnake
    April 13th, 2006 @ 7:18 am

    Disregard the parentheses on the previous post.

  6. Dada Saves
    April 13th, 2006 @ 11:43 am

    They shouldv’e aborted the fetus before they put Nightfeather in jail, because incareration violated the Fetus-American’s right to due process. Sheesh! You’d think a lawyer would know that!

  7. choobus
    April 13th, 2006 @ 1:10 pm

    hur hurr hurrr hur hur, he said penological, hurr ur

  8. Breakerslion
    April 13th, 2006 @ 2:07 pm

    Proving once again that “right-to-life” issues of someone else’s kid are just a concern when it is politically expedient. As for the commitment to the “Spiritual Path”, I think she left it when she commited fraud. She either 1. Stole someone else’s identity, or 2. Made up a false name. Either way, that is a denial of one’s own identity, and not very “spiritual”. The judge also used fallacous arguments: One cannot claim head lice as Dependents on one’s Form 1040 after they are born.

  9. Mister Swill
    April 13th, 2006 @ 2:20 pm

    Please tell me that “‘Petitioner’s subjective views regarding the humanity of the cell mass cannot trump the prison’s interest in avoiding the increased nutritional and medical expenses associated with pregnancy,’ said the court” is not your attempt to address my questions.

    “A fetus is not a human” is just as subjective a view as “a fetus is a human.” The subjectivity of the question indicates not that a law should state the non-personhood of a fetus, but that the law cannot rightly make a declaration either way regarding the personhood of a fetus. Remember, the lack of a law against something does not equal an endorsement by the law of that thing. I really don’t get what you’re trying to prove with your constant wacky scenarios in which people force others to have abortions or argue that someone “should have” been aborted.

  10. The Raving Atheist
    April 13th, 2006 @ 2:38 pm

    The scenario isn’t “wacky” unless you percieve some radical difference between Mrs. Nightfeather’s subjective view of her hair cells and her subjective view of her fetus. If you contend there is a significance difference between the two, then plainly the state is entitled to account for that difference in its legislation.

    Are you saying that the state (1) MAY cut her hair despite her subjective view regarding the humanity of the hair cells but (2) may NOT abort her fetus because it’s required to respect her subjective view of its humanity? Or that it has to respect her subjective view in both cases because the law isn’t entitled to take a position on either?

  11. Mister Swill
    April 13th, 2006 @ 4:20 pm

    If I compose an answer to your question right now, I will be late for work. Expect my response tonight. In the meantime, see if you can figure out the answer by reading comment #24 on your April 11th post entitled “Conceptual Thinking.”

  12. EclecticGuru
    April 13th, 2006 @ 6:37 pm

    If prisoners lose the right to make reproductive decisions for themselves, then that should include the right to decide whether or not they have an abortion.

    If they keep the right to make reproductive decisions (whether or not to be neutered for instance) then that should include the right to whether or not they have an abortion.

    For example, even though the rights of a fetus are not involved, you would not equate the state’s right to require to cut a prisoner’s hair with the state’s rights to cut off a prisoner’s balls. However, if someone wants to have a vascectomy, they should be allowed to have one.

    If a man, even a prisoner, has a right to decide what happens inside his scrotum, a woman should have similar rights over her own reproductive health.

  13. Mister Swill
    April 13th, 2006 @ 9:32 pm

    Okay, here we go. As I have argued countless times in this space, abstract concepts like right, wrong, good, evil, life, and personhood are subjective. They have no inherent existence outside of opinion. And that’s true even if you believe in God: The fact that He, and therefore his opinion, is infallible is the only thing that makes those concepts absolute. But you yourself have written at length of the logical problems with an infallible God. So it seems pretty clear that there exists no absolute, objective definition of right, wrong, good, evil, life, or personhood.

    Do I think that no law should be based on a subjective value? Of course not. If we were unable to write laws according to what is perceived as “right” and “wrong,” we couldn’t outlaw murder. Actually, that’s not entirely true, since there are plenty of practical reasons to outlaw murder in pursuit of a stable society, but let’s go with the premise for the sake of argument. If a law is to be based upon a subjective value judgment, it had damn well better be a value judgment on which there more or less exists a consensus, lest an elite minority impose its value system on the rest of us. That’s why, for instance, obscenity laws do not attempt to define specific criteria for what obscenity is, but defer to “community standards.” Obviously, that’s not a perfect system, but part of my point is that there is no perfect system.

    So we apply this to your wacky scenario (come on, all “Special to RA” premises are a little wacky): Raven Nightfeather believes her hair (not her follicles, out of which her hair grows) is a spiritual part of her and to cut it away would be defilement. A general consensus exists in her country that hair is dead tissue. Nightfeather also believes that the fetus inside her is a person. There exists no general consensus to the contrary (nor does there exist a consensus that she is correct). There’s your radical difference. That being said, I usually fall on the side of individual rights. Were I the judge, I’d need pretty solid proof of the dangers of long hair before I supported a forcible haircut. Nor would I ever support a forced abortion, which pretty much nobody in real life America advocates anyway.

    To summarize, the law must tread carefully when making decisions based on subjective values. A law should have demonstrable practical value or represent a generally agreed upon moral value. Many people agree with you that life begins at conception and must be protected from that point on, but by no means does anything approaching a consensus exist. You may think that you arrived at your position through the unbiased use of infallible logic, but I assure you, sir, that you did not. And your religious devotion to a subjective set of values trivializes American law and politics.

  14. Some Guy
    April 16th, 2006 @ 7:39 am

    “Raven Nightfeather”?

    Give me a break. That silly little bint should get an extra ten-year stretch for aggravated pomposity. Give her a year off if she reverts to a real name.

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