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Native Sun News: Court backs Indian inmates over tobacco use

The following story was written and reported by Brandon Ecoffey, Native Sun News Managing Editor. All content © Native Sun News.

Court rules ban on tobacco violates inmates rights
By Brandon Ecoffey
Native Sun News Managing Editor

SIOUX FALLS—On Friday, April 25, the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a ruling of Judge Karen Schreier that the South Dakota Department of Corrections cannot ban tobacco from Native American inmates using it for religious purposes.

Tobacco is one of the necessary components for some Native American religious ceremonies. Witnesses testifying at the district court trial, that Schreier oversaw, stated the tobacco had been used for hundreds of years by tribes. The court would rule that the ban by the South Dakota Department of Corrections violated the religious rights of Native American inmates.

The state would then appeal the ruling of the lower court however last Friday a three-judge panel of the U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the U.S. District Court’s decision that the department’s ban substantially burdened the exercise of the inmates' religious practices and beliefs.

The original decision to bar Native inmate’s access to tobacco was seen by many inmates as being racially motivated. Prison officials however attested that the decision to deny inmates use of the product was to guarantee the safety and security of the institutions.

The ban would be challenged in 2009 by the Native American Council of Tribes and South Dakota Native American inmates Blaine Brings Plenty and Clayton Creek brought suit against prison officials in violation of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000.

The state can appeal the decision to the United States Supreme Court or ask for a review by the entire 8th Circuit.

(Contact Brandon Ecoffey at

Copyright permission Native Sun News

8th Circuit Decision:
Native American Council of Tribes v. Weber (April 25, 2014)

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