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NARF: “The impact of Holt v. Hobbs on Native American Inmates”

 

Here. An excerpt:

Holt holds that this approach is wrong.  Much like Knight, the Arkansas prison officials in Holtfeared safety and security issues and ignored the successful measures taken by the vast majority of prison systems to safely accommodate religious beards.  The Holt opinion makes clear that these successful, widespread accommodations are indeed relevant and indicate that Arkansas was not utilizing the “least restrictive means.”  Additionally, the Supreme Court emphasized that judges cannot simply defer to the opinions of prison officials as a means of practicing “unquestioning acceptance,” thereby abdicating judicial responsibility to apply RLUIPA’s very rigorous standard.  Courts must demand persuasive proof that denial of an exemption to a specific person is the least restrictive means of furthering compelling penological interests.  Like the prison officials in Holt, the officials in Knight failed to meet this standard, and the court applied an unquestioning acceptance of their opinions.  It is an error that has plagued the cases of several Native American inmates through several decades of litigation, and we believe that Holt provides the clarity necessary to remedy this persistent issue.

The Holt opinion changes a fundamental aspect of how certain prison systems deal with Native Americans and their religious practices.  For those Natives who reside in the darkest corners of U.S. penal systems, it is no longer the rule that they cannot engage in their traditional religious practices merely because their jailors say so.  Courts will demand more, just as Congress intended when it enacted RLUIPA.

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