NARF: Supreme Court decision impacts rights of Indian inmates

A view of the U.S. Supreme Court. Photo © Indianz.Com

The Native American Rights Fund provides an update on the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Holt v. Hobbs and its impact on Knight v. Thompson, a case filed by Indian inmates:
Holt v. Hobbs, a recent unanimous decision by the U.S. Supreme Court protecting a Muslim prisoner’s right to wear a half-inch beard, has important implications for Native American inmates seeking accommodation of their religious practices. In Holt, the Court held that Arkansas violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) where its grooming policy did not allow beards and it refused to grant a religious exemption to an inmate whose Muslim religion required him to wear a beard. Shortly before the Court granted review in Holt, a group of Native American inmates filed a petition in Knight v. Thompson, asking the Court to review a case where prison officials in Alabama refused to grant a religious exemption from their restrictive grooming policy to allow Native Americans to wear long hair consistent with their Native religious beliefs. The Native American Rights Fund, representing the National Congress of American Indians and Huy filed “friend of the Court” briefs supporting the prisoners in both Holt and Knight. The Court has held the Knight petition since May 2014 and now, with its decision in Holt, has rescheduled consideration of the petition for its January 23, 2015, conference.

Like Mr. Holt, the Native American prisoners in Knight seek relief under RLUIPA, which requires that a substantial burden on an inmate’s religious exercise be the least restrictive means of furthering a compelling government interest. This standard, referred to as “strict scrutiny,” is the most stringent legal standard applied to laws and government rules. A lack of consistent application of this rigorous standard by the lower federal courts has allowed some state prison systems to unduly restrict religious practices of Native American inmates.

Get the Story:
The impact of Holt v. Hobbs on Native American inmates (NARF 1/22)

Supreme Court Decision:
Holt v. Hobbs (January 20, 2015)

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