A federal appeals panel has reversed a lower court's ruling that a Sunni Muslim incarcerated in a Virginia prison could not grow a beard as dictated by his religion because it runs counter to the state Department of Corrections' grooming policy.

William R. Couch, an inmate at the Augusta Correctional Center in Craigsville, requested in December 2009 to grow a one-eighth-inch beard to comply with his religious requirements, pointing out that the prison accommodated medically exempt inmates who can grow four-inch beards. Those inmates can get a "No Shave Pass" from a prison's medical authority based on a condition aggravated by shaving.

Mr. Couch was repeatedly denied, however, and subsequently filed a civil action. The district court, however, ruled in favor of the prison officials.

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