The Catholic University of America



Professor Mark Rienzi Back at U.S. Supreme Court in Religious Freedom Case


For the third time in 2014, Catholic University law school Professor Mark Rienzi’s involvement in freedom of religion issues drew him back to the Supreme Court as an advocate.
The most recent example is Holt v. Hobbs, a case argued before the Court on Oct. 7.  The issue was whether the State of Arkansas has the constitutional right to prevent a Muslim prisoner from growing a ½ inch beard for religious reasons.
Rienzi was not the counsel of record, but he attended the oral argument and contributed to its brief through his longstanding pro bono support of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.
Arkansas has refused to permit any prisoner in its system to grow a beard, citing potential security concerns. The prisoner's brief read in part,
“The state-imposed burden on petitioner’s religious practice of keeping a beard is incontrovertible. Respondents say they can allow no exceptions to the no-beard rule because of security concerns. But that defense is not tenable when forty-four other state and federal prison systems with the same security interests allow the beards that Arkansas forbids…”
A more detailed description of the case and the issues it raises is available from the Religion News Service.  The justices are expected to issue their decision in Holt v. Hobbs next spring.
Two other rulings from the Court earlier this year were clear victories for Rienzi, who represented clients in both cases on a pro bono basis over a period of years.
On June 26, Court ruled unanimously that a Massachusetts law providing a protest-free zone outside abortion clinics in the state was an unconstitutional infringement of free speech. That case, McCullen v. Coakley, was argued by Rienzi before the justices last January.
Days later, the Supreme Court held in favor of the right of a family-owned business to exclude on religious grounds certain types of contraceptives from insurance coverage for its employees. The court’s 5-4 vote in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. marked the second victory for Rienzi, who was part of the legal team that filed a brief at the Supreme Court in the case.