Sunday, September 22, 2013

The beard interfered, but Hasan is still sentenced to death row.

Former army psychiatrist, Major Nidal Malik Hasan continues to fight for his constitutional right to freely exercise his religion— despite being on death row.

Hasan was convicted of killing 13 people and injuring over 30 others at Fort Hood in Texas, and is responsible for the worst mass murder at a military installation in United States history. While the shooting rampage occurred in 2009, the courts decision was not finalized until this past August. Why the delay? To be blunt, the blame is on his beard.

In June 2012, Nidal Malik Hasan arrived at his first hearing sporting a very thick, dark beard. Even though he was not serving in the United States military at the time, he was still responsible for abiding to official army rules during this military trial, especially since he was still receiving pension despite his criminal status. Army Regulation 670-1 consists of grooming rules for members of the military and specifically prohibits growing beards and goatees—a neatly trimmed mustache is allowed at times. The main reason for this rule is for hygiene purposes along with a clean-cut appearance that the United States army has identified with since before World War I.

The original material judge for Hasan’s case, Colonel Gregory Gross, noted the beard upon arrival and immediately asked that he shave, out of respect for the laws that all members of the military are subject to. Hasan claimed that his beard was not to show disrespect, but was required by his Muslim faith and being clean-shaven was a sin. The discrepancy between legal army regulations and the constitutional freedom of religious expression put the court material on hold for about three months.

A quick flashback to Major Nidal Malik Hasan’s military career prior to the Fort Hood shooting: a loyal member of the American team who appeared to have undying pride for his country. Until colleagues noticed some odd behavior, for example Hasan’s presentation promoting islam and the religious duty of suicide bombers around the time period that President Bush’s War on Terror was declared. Members of Hasan’s family expressed that this was also the time period when Nidal started to talk openly about how he didn’t want to serve in a military that was against the Islamic faith in any way shape or form. Right before he fired the first shot at Fort Hood, Hasan shouted, Allahu Akbar!”which translates to "God is Great" in Arabic.

Moreover, being Muslim is a part of Hasan’s identity that he has been open about, despite his legal duty to serve his country in a fight against radical Islamists. As someone who was born in the United States, Hasan was born with the right to believe in whatever religion he chose and the freedom to express that faith. Even though he signed a contract proclaiming his loyalty to the United States Military, his actions before and after the Fort Hood shooting serve as evidence against his own government—regardless of whether or not they stemmed from religious beliefs.

Back to the courtroom: A new material judge was put on the case, Col. Tara Osborn, and she allowed Hasan to keep his beard during the trial. The facial hair made no difference in the outcome of Hasan’s case and he was sent to the U.S. Detention Barracks at Fort Levenwoth on counts of premeditated murder and attempted premeditated murder. He is the 6thUS soldier in history to be put on death row.

Once he arrived at Fort Levensworth, the officials forcibly shaved Hasan’s beard. The process was videotaped for records but details of how he was restrained or if he even needed to be restrained remain confidential. The exception that Osborn allowed in the courtroom did not fly in military prison and just as all other inmates; Hasan was required to conform to army uniforms and insignia. John Galligan, Hasan’s former civilian lawyer wants to sue the army for violating his religious liberties and that the forced shaving is a vindictive act.

Facial hair is a statement. For some, it’s a product of laziness, for others it could be for warmth but for some Muslims, facial hair is a command from Mohammed. However even among different sects of Islam, the interpretation of the beard is different; some stress the importance of length while others prefer a “cropped beard” and during the 1960’s and 70’s, more men were shaving their beards as a sign of modernity.

So Hasan has the right to believe that his beard is a religious duty…but do his religious beliefs have the right to override his signed duties to his country? By enlisting in the military, Nidal Hasan knew what he legally signed up for and was responsible for protecting the United States through any means asked of him. He went against this contract by committing murder and I think it is wrong for him to insist on keeping his beard while tangled in a system that he directly went against.

He didn’t have a beard while he was an active psychiatrist because he understood army regulations and yet he still identified as Muslim. He then committed a mass murder and expects the organization that HE LEGALLY BETRAYED to waive his responsibility to abide by A670-1. I am all for freedom of expression, but I think a line needs to be drawn when a person commits a crime against their own country. While I don’t have the power to decide whether or not having a beard is a religious duty, I do think that the evidence against Hasan shows enough proof to consider how much he deserves these inalienable rights after committing such a crime.

Which holds more weight in the U.S.:  The freedom to express one’s religious beliefs or the promises soldiers make to protect their fellow citizens? Since this death penalty case involves a member of the military, the ultimate decision is up to the president since they are commander in chief.


Nicole D said...

I was originally going to disagree, because I thought that this was arguing that his right to freedom of expression of religion should be forfeited because of the fact that he was on death row. If those were the only circumstances I would say that that is not a fair statement. We constantly make it a point to advertise that we treat our prisoners with the same respect that we treat any other citizen. However, the fact that he willingly signed up for the military and willingly complied with those rules may make things more complicated. However, I still don't think that I agree that his rights should be taken away. As much as I think we all agree he was wrong for killing people and betraying his country, he feels just as betrayed by his country as we do by him. Foregoing his religious freedom by being forced to shave was once an acceptable rule he followed, however now that he feels the military was persecuting his religion, he does not feel that he wants to be associated with the military any longer. He can no longer accept that he should choose his country over religion, and I don't think that it is fair to say that he should be forced to do that solely because he once did. He is on death row. Having a beard is not going to prevent him from receiving the exact same punishment, but shaving it does take away his right to freely exercise his religion. Last I checked, the government does not take away the right to exercise religion for anyone else who is on death row, in fact they tend to encourage religious practices.

Cori T said...

Should Hasan have left the military because he decided to choose religion over his country then I would say that he should have been allowed to keep the beard. By continuing to work for the military, he was in effect deciding to comply with their rules, which entailed not having a beard.

Maggie S. said...

I guess the question lurking for me is: how might we see this differently if Hasan were an upstanding and respected member of the military? If he has chosen to grow his beard and defend his right to religion freedom when he was still an active member of the military, would we think differently about his rights? I think he should be able to keep the beard- he's in prison and on death row and even though he's still affiliated with the military, he is no longer representing the US Military- so what's the point of making him shave?

Benjamin S said...

I too was going to disagree and say that Hasan should be permitted to keep his beard, and although I do not sympathize his criminal acts, I morally believe his beard is permissible under the grounds of religious freedom. However, he did commit a crime under contract and as long as he is receiving a pension, he must comply with said contract. Moreover, he knowingly committed these crimes under the contract and he was clean-shaven before entering prison. He must remain clean-shaven until the contract is void. (Do I think the US could make an exception? Yes.)

Gabby D. said...

I would have to agree that Hasan is constitutionally covered to be able to keep his beard under the free exercise clause. I think we have seen many cases in our class of how religion can trump secular law when it comes to allowing one to freely exercise their beliefs. Although Hasan is a prisoner and a criminal, he still has rights and under our constitution he is protected to keep his beard if he claims that is a religious duty.

Kaela Diomede said...

My initial opinion was that Hasan should be able to keep his beard because it is his constitutional right, he has the right to freely exercise his religion, but the one caveat was his was affiliation with the military. He was not forcibly signed up for the military, he chose to be apart of it. This man did not only commit a crime, he mass murdered multiple people. Of course he still has rights under out constitution to practice his religion freely, but he also had the freedom to choose to sign a federal contract to support our country and keep us safe, and one of those rules is the restriction of facial hair. I don't want to be so extremely radical and state that he should be striped of all his freedoms, but I think that by law, based on the contact that he agreed to with the military, he should be forced to shave his beard. If he still feels inclined to practice his religion, thats his right, but this is a law of the federal detention center, and US citizens must follow federal laws.

SC said...

Why did he decide now that he needs to have his beard? Presumably when he was serving, he kept himself clean shaving per the requirements of the army. However, questions of his religious sincerity not withstanding, I see no problem allowing him to keep his beard because of his religion. Him growing his beard out harms no one else around him. I have to disagree with Blair, and I think that despite his heinous crimes, he still has a right to freely practice his religion. It is easy, due to the severity of his crimes, to make the claim that he no longer deserves the rights that most people had, which is part of the reason why dealing with prisoner rights is so difficult. However, despite performing acts so terrible that he is one of the 6 soldiers to be put on death row, his status as a criminal is unrelated to his right to freedom of religion.