Spirituality Rights For Our Brothers And Sisters In The Iron House sign now

The struggle to practice native spirituality goes on each and every day inside the many Iron Houses. Most prison administrators are completely ignorant of native spirituality. They refuse to recognize that native ceremonies, spiritual teachings, and practices are not conducted on a weekly basis, as are Christian religious ceremonies, but instead are "integrated into daily life, rather than reserved for a special day of the week." Prison officials also fail to understand that "sacred pipes, eagle feathers, various herbs and the wearing of long hair are all integral parts of the ceremony necessary for native spiritual expression," in the same ways that church ceremonies involving the sacrament of communion and the wearing of crosses are for members of the Christian faith.

Traditional spiritual practices benefit Native American prisoners to an extent that no other type of prison sponsored program has done before. Native American prisoners who participate in sweats and other native ceremonies benefit through rehabilitative changes, reductions in alcoholism and anti-social behavior, decreased recidivism rate, and improved self-esteem and dignity. In fact, the few enlightened prison wardens who understand and support Native American spiritual practices in prison express exasperation at other officials's so-called security excuses as a basis for disallowing the practices.

Not only do prison officials ignore the benefits of native practices, they also consistently engage in coercive tactics to either discourage Native American prisoners from practicing their native spirituality or to punish them for asserting their constitutional rights to its free exercise. Scores have been written on this subject, which is one reason why it has become a world-wide human rights campaign. Prison officials engage in numerous types of destructive and coercive tactics to keep the native prisoners silent, such as physical brutality, mental torture through the use of control units, transferring inmates from facility to facility, prohibiting possession of certain religious literature, general harassment, and either requiring a minimum number of participants or else requiring 100\% participation. All of this is done simply because NativeAmerican prisoners are trying to assert their right to have their spirituality protected and respected to the same extent as other religions in prison.

The First Amendment of the Constitution provides that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." The First Amendment actually contains two separate clauses: the Establishment Clause, which prohibits state and federal laws that aid or prefer one religion over another; and the Free Exercise Clause, which prohibits laws that burden the practice of religion. When a prisoner sues for violations of his religious freedom rights, it is almost always the Free Exercise Clause which is implicated. Under the Free Exercise Clause, the right to believe in a religion is absolutely protected, but the right to engage in conduct related to the exercise of that religion is not. Oftentimes, however, the fine line between religious belief and religious conduct blurs and the two become inextricably woven, as is the case of Native American spirituality.

The Supreme Court acknowledges that prisoners do not forfeit their constitutional rights simply because they have been convicted of a crime and sentenced to prison. Prisoners clearly retain the protections afforded by the First Amendment, including its directive that no law shall prohibit the free exercise of religion. The constitutional rights of prisoners, however, must be balanced against the very weighty penalogical objectives of the prison system, which include deterrence of crime, rehabilitation of prisoners, and institutional security. This balancing of interests has long been accepted as proper by the Court, because "incarceration brings about the necessary withdrawal or limitation of many privileges and rights, a retraction justified by the considerations underlying our penal system."
In accordance with this balancing of interests, the Supreme Court has directed that courts of this land must allow for "respect and deference . . . for the judgment of prison administrators." What this means for prisoners is that courts are required to give almost complete deference to the penalogical concerns of prison officials, regardless of how speculative the concerns might be. In many courts, all a prison official has to do is speculate about a so-called security concern, without ever having to show any real evidence, in order to prevail against a prisoner's free exercise claim. When a prisoner brings a free exercise claim, it is from under this immense umbrella of balanced interests and prison authority deference (the so-called deference doctrine) that he must try to prevail.

Many of our brothers and sisters in the Iron Houses have no rights to Spiritual Freedom, we stand strong together in Native American Unity, in support of our Native American Inmates and in support of our rights as Native American People.

We ask for change, we ask for the same treatment given to all other religions and people, we ask that the oppression of our people stops!

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Latest Signatures

  • 16 December 2015100. Joan Fr
  • 22 November 201599. Nancy C
    I support this petition
  • 21 November 201598. Stacey Sparkslazurek
    I support this petition
  • 17 November 201597. Joanna K
    This is each human's basic right! Please remove this discrimination of Native Americans and allow them officially practice their Spirituality in prisons too!!!This is healing process/practice needed for everybody and especially for a prisoner!!! Thank you
  • 02 November 201596. Rebecca F
    I support this petition
  • 01 September 201595. Mike Leblancw
    I support this petition
  • 20 July 201594. Kat Y
    I support this petition
  • 01 June 201593. Nathan T
    I support this petition
  • 26 May 201592. Marion Blackbearc
    I support this petition
  • 23 February 201591. Jalisi S
    I support this petition
  • 29 January 201590. Rev Johnmarkc
    I support prisoner rights to Spiritual Expression! This is a BASIC Human Right!
  • 17 January 201589. Kheoking Vega
    I support this petition
  • 08 December 201488. Luke Haydnc
    I support this petition
  • 01 December 201487. Gertrena S
    I support this petition
  • 22 November 201486. Alexander N
    I support this petition
  • 20 November 201485. Stephen L
    freedom of religion and all other private matters are our constiutional rights....
  • 31 October 201484. Connie Ks
    I support this petition
  • 21 September 201483. Elaine T
    Rights for everyone - including those oppressed by your country for too long!
  • 16 May 201482. Bo T
    Why is it all right for others to practice their spirituality and not for Native Americans to do the same? There are bible studies, prayer meetings, etc, etc held more then once a week and that is okay. Bibles and crucifixes are okay but not an eagle feat
  • 04 May 201481. George S
    I support this petition
  • 03 April 201480. Manget Ponce
    i am with you,in your fight
  • 22 March 201479. Caneadea Dewelleauxlpdochawaiic
    It is important that every human is granted their own way to connect to a god of their own understanding! "All Life Is Sacred"
  • 11 March 201478. Joey Bluel
    I support this petition
  • 08 March 201477. Gloria H
    I support this petition
  • 18 February 201476. Melissa M
    Be strong Brothers and Sisters
  • 26 January 201475. Sophia Wiley
    I believe no matter what crime people do, they are human and do have rights to their own spirituality.
  • 09 January 201474. Francis H
    I support this petition

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Marcia WeeksBy:
Petition target:
US Congres/US Prison Officials


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