A military appeals court Wednesday stayed the trial of accused Fort Hood shooter Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan after judges found that forcibly shaving Hasan, as a military judge had ordered, would violate his religious freedom.
The United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, a panel of four civilian judges appointed by the president and based in Washington, issued the order at the same time Hasan was appearing in court at the sprawling Army base in central Texas.
The appeals panel, the highest court in the military system, is the equivalent of a federal Circuit Court of Appeal.
Hasan, 41, a U.S. Muslim born to Palestinian parents, appeared in court Wednesday with a full salt-and-pepper beard, in uniform and a wheelchair.
He is charged with 13 counts of premeditated murder and 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder in the November 2009 attack on the Army base, which left him paralyzed.
If convicted, he could face the death penalty.
Hasan’s defense team argues that forcibly shaving their client would violate his First Amendment right to freedom of religion, since Hasan “is a practicing Muslim and has recently had a premonition that his death is imminent.
He does not wish to die without a beard as he believes not having a beard is a sin,” according to his petition to the appeals court.”
The lawyers noted that Hasan had “discussed his premonition and reasons for growing his beard” with a member of his military defense team who is an imam and who vouched for the fact that Hasan’s refusal to shave is due to “a sincere, personal religious conviction.”
Hasan had previously requested a religious exemption to wear a beard, but his request was denied by superiors, who cited the need for “discipline, unit cohesion and morale.” His attorneys noted that he had always appeared in “proper uniform.”