Tajuddin Ashaheed was forced by a corrections officer to shave his beard while in the custody of the Colorado Department of Corrections (CDOC), violating his First Amendment rights. Mr. Ashaheed is a practicing Muslim who observes the Sunnha practice of leaving his beard to grow. His beard is integral to his religious identity, and from his perspective, his beard connotes piety and spirituality and dictates how he is perceived in the world. Shaving his beard violates a core tenet of Mr. Ashaheed’s faith. Nevertheless, Mr. Ashaheed alleges the following in his complaint: When he reported to the CDOC on July 6, 2016 to begin a 90-day sentence on a parole violation, a sergeant ordered him to shave his beard despite CDOC regulations exempting prisoners who have a beard as a fundamental tenet of their religious belief from shaving, CDOC having documented Mr. Ashaheed’s religious affiliation during a previous sentence, Mr. Ashaheed confirming his continued faith during his intake interview, and Mr. Ashaheed explaining his exemption to the sergeant. Even in the face of these explanations, the sergeant threatened to place Mr. Ashaheed in solitary confinement if he did not shave. To avoid this punishment, Mr. Ashaheed complied, leading him to feel not only humiliated, demoralized, and dehumanized because of his inability to practice his religion, but singled out on the basis of his religion as no other religious prisoners were required to shave in violation of their religious belief, and other non-Muslim prisoners were allowed to keep items of religious significance such as crosses and Bibles.
Despite acknowledging that Mr. Ashaheed’s complaint “adequately stated a free exercise [of religion] claim” and that the sergeant’s actions “were designed to disrupt [Mr. Ashaheed]’s religious practices and were intentionally directed at [Mr. Ashaheed] due to [the sergeant]’s hostility towards the religion of Islam,” the trial court dismissed Mr. Ashaheed’s First Amendment claim on the basis of qualified immunity, concluding that although the sergeant violated Mr. Ashaheed’s constitutional rights, he had not violated clearly established law and was therefore immune from liability.
The MacArthur Justice Center appealed the trial court’s decision to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, arguing that because it is a settled rule that the law clearly prohibits animus-driven religious discrimination, no reasonable officer needs clearly established law to tell him or her that any particular act of intentional religious discrimination violates the law and, therefore, the sergeant is not entitled to qualified immunity.
The case has been fully briefed and is set to be argued before the Tenth Circuit in May 2021.
Reply Brief of Appellant Tajuddin Ashaheed filed.
Response Brief of Appellee Thomas E. Currington filed.
Amicus Brief by Muslim Advocates filed.
Amicus Brief by The Cato Institute filed.
Amicus Brief of Institute for Justice filed.
Opening Brief of Appellant Tajuddin Ashaheed filed.