Religious Freedom is Precarious in Prison
Where powerful human authority of one person over another exists, religious freedom can be precarious. The prison system is exactly the kind of place where an organizational mission of safety can tempt authorities to overstep the boundary of religious freedom. A recent post to Stone City Blog points up how seemingly minor points of restriction are in fact violations of the constitutional protection for religious practice.
Listen to Mike Hoover, a Klamath tribe member and Pipe Carrier, currently residing at the Washington State Penitentiary:
Our Sweat Lodge is the only place we can go within these iron houses where we’re free to engage each other in a meaningful way and to practice the old ways of our faith.
Recently our lode came under attack by administration and custody for not being as bucolic as they felt it should be. Various members of the circle were called out to the lodge and dressed down by an associate superintendent. Topics discussed: Weeds, water being offered to the fire, an unauthorized garden, water left running, urinating, placing retired rock elders around the mound and path leading from the mound to the fire. (spirit trail).
The administration permits use of the Sweat Lodge for 8 hours at a time but does not permit bathroom breaks, and then complains when Lodge members relieve themselves on their sacred earth however they can. The restrictions on placement of rocks and the flow of smoke threaten exercise of tribal religion. Mr. Hoover is forced to oppose prison (human) authority out of respect for the higher authority of their religion:
I refused to participate in desecrating the mound. I feel that DOC wants to sterilize and dilute our religion, our way of life. Everything we do at lodge has a meaning and there is a reason for it. If we don’t keep the old ways we are lost. But how can we continue to walk the red road to healing, spiritual growth, and rehabilitation when DOC places so many detours and road blocks along our path?
We who are outside would do well to advocate against these infringements inside the prison system. They are symptomatic of a thread of disrespect which all too easily escalates to denial of religious freedom.
Full test of blog post by Mr. Hoover is at: https://stonecityblog.com/category/michael-hoover/