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Virginia Watches Supreme Court Case Of Inmate Fighting To Keep Beard

Virginia is one of seven states that prohibits inmates from growing beards.
Virginia is one of seven states that prohibits inmates from growing beards.

A Virginia lawyer is on his way to the U.S. Supreme Court to defend the right of a man to grow a beard, and seven states will be watching that case closely.

Gregory Holt is serving a life sentence for burglary and domestic battery in Arkansas, one of seven states, including Virginia, that bars prisoners from growing a beard. His lawyer says that's a problem, because Holt is a Muslim.

"There are hadiths, which are sayings of the prophet and people close to him that say you're not supposed to shave your beard," explains Douglas Laycock, a professor of constitutional law at the University of Virginia.

He says Holt got all the way to the Supreme Court without the help of a lawyer, writing his arguments by hand, but now he needs a professional, and this will be Laycock's fifth time before the high court. He'll argue that federal law protects his client's religious freedom.

"The statute says if you burden a prisoner's free exercise of religion, you have to have a compelling reason. This guy only wants to grow a half-inch beard, and the magistrate who saw the beard said it's preposterous to think you could hide anything in that beard, but I'm required to defer to these prison officials who say maybe you could, and that's the law in the circuit that this came from," he says.

Laycock will also point to 43 states, the District of Columbia and the federal prison system where beards are permitted behind bars.

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