Indian inmates in South Dakota win religious freedom lawsuit

In a lawsuit filed by Indian inmates, a federal judge in South Dakota struck down the state's ban on the use of tobacco in religious ceremonies.

The Native American Council of Tribes, a group that holds ceremonies for inmates, and two inmates who are members of the Oglala Sioux Tribe sued state corrections officials over the ban. Judge Judge Karen Schreier ruled that the policy violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act.

"Defendants have not met their burden to prove that they had a compelling governmental interest for banning all tobacco," Schreier wrote, noting that inmates in other states are allowed to use tobacco.

"Even if defendants had asserted a compelling governmental interest, they have not proven that the complete ban was the least restrictive means available to further that governmental interest," the decision continued. "Thus, defendants violated RLUIPA by banning all tobacco."

According to the decision, about 27 percent of the state's prison population in South Dakota is Native American. The majority are Oglala Sioux so the ban affected a large number of inmates.

Get the Story:
Judge: SD prison tobacco ban substantially burdens Native American inmates’ religious rights (AP 9/19)

District Court Decision:
Native American Council of Tribes v. Weber (September 19, 2012)

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