U.S. Supreme Court justices, hearing an important religious rights case on Tuesday, expressed doubt over whether the state of Arkansas can justify preventing a Muslim inmate from having a beard.

The court appears likely to grant convicted burglar Gregory Holt's request to have a half-inch (1.3 cm) beard in accordance with his religious beliefs. But the justices seemed unsure where to draw the line over whether prison officials could have valid reasons for banning longer beards, which could lead to a narrow ruling.

Holt says the state's prison grooming policy prohibiting inmates from having facial hair other than a "neatly trimmed mustache" violated his religious rights under a 2000 federal law called the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act.

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