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Walking the Red Road in the Iron House
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By Joel West Williams, Staff Attorney, Native American Rights Fund

Posted with the permission of the American Jail Association. This article was originally published in the May/June 2014 issue of American Jails, the magazine of the American Jail Association.

The “red road” is the path of Native American spirituality and cultural identity. Though religious observance among Native American inmates is sometimes considered primarily as an issue pitting civil rights against facility safety and security, its value in rehabilitation and reconciliation is also important.

There is significant diversity in Native American religions. Some traditions incorporate Christian belief, and others are purely indigenous. Despite the diversity in core beliefs, many Native faith traditions share similar ceremonial practices.

This article explains the legal background of accommodations that allow Native American inmates to practice traditional religions within a secure setting. The author reviews the significance of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA). Caselaw is summarized, addressing freedom of religion for inmates in general and for Native American and Alaska Native inmates in particular.

Corrections officials are increasingly aware that traditional religious practices need not threaten penological interests, and they often can find less restrictive accommodations that satisfy security concerns. Ceremonial use of tobacco, access to religious objects, traditional hair styles, and sweat lodges are now more likely to be permitted than in the past.


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Posted Thu, Sep 25 2014 11:16 AM by Elizabeth


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