OUR VIEW: Religion is a right, even for prisonersTwo American Indian inmates say their religious rights were being trampled in the state penitentiary, where a tobacco ban affected their religious ceremonies.
By: Editorial board, The Daily Republic
Two American Indian inmates say their religious rights were being trampled in the state penitentiary, where a tobacco ban affected their religious ceremonies.
The prison went smoke-free in 2000, although allowances were made for Indian ceremonies. Some Indians employ tobacco as a central part of their religion and prayers.
But those allowances were dropped in 2009 after prison officials claimed that the policy was being abused, and that some prisoners were instead selling the tobacco.
Members of the Native American Council of Tribes sued, and last week a judge declared that the ban does indeed infringe on Indians’ religious rights.
Judge Karen Schreier said inmates and prison officials should now meet to come up with an appropriately crafted alternative.
We think Schreier’s decision is just. Even if some prisoners were abusing the previous rules, those abuses shouldn’t have resulted in an outright ban that tramples on the way Indians pray and worship.
We feel religious rights are different than other so-called rights of prisoners.
It brings to mind the 2006 dispute that arose when the state prison warden decided that guitars would be removed from cells of certain prison sections. It created a bit of an uproar, especially after a woman complained that the guitar she purchased for a convicted murderer was removed from his cell.
The warden was right in that case. Convicted murders relinquished their rights to creature comforts the moment they committed their heinous act.
Religion is different. And here in South Dakota, which has a large population of Indians, we should be sure to allow exceptions so that inmates who don’t abuse the privilege can practice their beliefs as they see fit.