Skip to comments.Prisoners sue for the right to use a sweat lodge
Posted on 04/22/2006 4:37:44 AM PDT by billorites
CONCORD- Steam from a Native American sweat or purification lodge may soon be rising from the grounds of one of the states two mens prisons.
Two state prisoners have sued Department of Corrections officials in federal court claiming their right to practice their Native American religion has been infringed because they have been denied the use of a sweat lodge. They claim the construction and use of a sweat lodge is fundamental to their religion.
Sweat lodge ceremonies are held for the purification of the participants. They are typically held in a structure made of cedar or willow saplings covered with canvas tarps or blankets.
Rocks are heated in a fire pit outside and then moved into the structure, where water is poured over them to create steam.
Prison officials repeatedly denied requests for sweat lodges, saying the use of heated rocks and the disorienting effects from inhalants pose a risk to security, health and safety.
Department of Corrections spokesman Jeff Lyons said security is the first priority. We look at the impact any kind of ritual ceremonies would have on security. First, we want to make sure the public is safe and the other inmates and staff are safe.
Lyons said the number of prisoners who practice the Native American religion is no more than 20. He said the number is much smaller than some of the other religious organizations that serve prisoners.
Prayer Feather Farrow, who is held at the Berlin prison, first sued corrections officials in U.S. District Court in Concord in 2002, while Denis Paul Gagne, who is held at the Concord prison, sued officials in 2003.
A trial is scheduled to begin July 6 at 9:30 a.m., but negotiations between the Attorney Generals Office and a lawyer for Farrow and Gagne are ongoing. U.S. District Court Judge Paul Barbadoro has made the legal determination the two men are entitled to a sweat lodge but the conditions need to be negotiated, said Manchester attorney Lawrence Vogelman, who represents Farrow.
Disputes between prisoners who practice Native American religion and prison officials are common, particularly after Congress approved the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 that aims to protect the religious rights of inmates held in state and local institutions. A number of states have been forced through the federal courts to allow the purification ceremonies.
Under the act, prison regulation must not impose a substantial burden on a prisoners ability to practice his or her religion. Prison officials have the burden of proving why the restriction is needed and that it is the least restrictive possible.
In a status report filed with the federal court in January, Senior Assistant Attorney General Michael Brown outlines concerns raised by prison officials and discussions between officials and the two mens spiritual adviser, Medicine Story.
As a result of the negotiations, prison officials have developed a draft policy that would permit a sweat lodge at the Northern Correctional Facility in Berlin. The draft was filed with the court at the end of February, but no settlement has been reached to date.
Lyons referred all questions about the federal suit to Brown. Brown did not respond to messages left at his office yesterday.
The draft policy would have the sweat lodge constructed in a 40-by-20-foot area under the guidance of an approved Native American volunteer. The department would fence in the area to protect it.
The policy also delineates the materials needed for the sweat lodge, including sage, cedar and sweet grass to be used for smudge as well as a ceremonial pipe with kinnick-kinnick to be smoked as part of the service.
A water hose would also be needed for fire protection. Firewood would have to be delivered to the prison, cut, split and seasoned, and cannot be supplied by the prison, which is forbidden by law from spending state money for religious purposes.
Participation in sweat lodge ceremonies would be restricted to Native American card holders who attend at least three-fourths of the Native American Circle meetings during the quarter. The inmates would have to be at least at medium security status as well.
The Department of Corrections could postpone a scheduled purification ceremony due to weather, wind direction, security issues or fire safety standards.
The ceremonies would be held quarterly, and participants would be required to keep the area snow-free in the winter and maintain the facility.
Vogelman said, Were still having some discussions with the (Attorney Generals Office). At some point, we may all have to get together to reach a settlement.
Injun for doobie.
"Injun for doobie."
LMAO. Thank you.
LOL my handle on Counter Strike is 'Big Sweaty Cellmate'. I guess I'm an Indian now!
They have had them at leavenworth for 15 years. not to mention the asatru long house and musy mosque.
You are not in prison to practice religion.If their religion meant so much to them then why were'nt they practicing it before rather than committing a crime?
Amen! One's religion should move one toward good deeds and away from bad ones, DOH!
Anyway, they want a sweat lodge, just turn up the jailhouse thermostat to 95 degrees in August!
They should stop complaining now and get back to raping each other.
It all just makes me want to get as much space between me and my "fellow man" as possible. I believe it is referred to as misanthropy. Sorry to be so glum on a Saturday morning.
I believe these guys should get their way. Personally, I belong to the Temple of Good Life and Good Times, and my religion calls for Danish bacon, eggs Benedict, Colombian coffee or Earl Grey tea (per my choice), and freshly-baked croissants with creamery butter and Scottish marmalade at breakfast; melon and prosciutto at lunch; Beluga caviar, Dom Perignon champagne, and Black Angus T-bone steaks at dinner; silk sheets on the bed; HDTV with cable; and regular spa visits with extended massage furnished by blonde women between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five, followed by "conjugal visits" from same. And, of course, the taxsuckers... er... taxpayers should foot the bill. Hey, after all, the constitution prohibits "cruel and unusual" punishment, and mandates freedom of worship, right?
I'm sure the nice corrections officers will furnish me with all the religious trappings I may require in order to worship in my own way if I'm ever forced by social injustice and a cruel and unequal economic structure to do time - they should do the same for these guys.
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