BUNKER HILL – A Native American inmate is suing the Miami Correctional Facility for violating his constitutional religious freedom after the prison last year terminated Native American worship services.
Daniel Littlepage says in a class action lawsuit that about 40 Native Americans have practiced their religion during weekly worship and study services led by prisoners since at least 2008.
He said the Indiana Department of Correction allowed the group to hold sacred circle services, where prayers are offered by the community, and smudging ceremonies, which incorporates burning herbs to “heal and purify.”
The facility did not permit a sacred pipe ceremony or the use of a sweat lodge, which are also part of Native American worship services, Littlepage said.
However, the lawsuit says the prison banned the services in June since there were no approved outside volunteers to lead the group.
The IDOC allows prisoners to facilitate services in the absence of a volunteer or approved staff if the prisoner leading the worship maintains regular communication with a recognized religious authority.
But the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana, which is representing Littlepage in the case, says in a court brief maintaining contact with outside religious authorities is problematic since there is no formal accrediting process for Native American spiritual leaders. There is also no recognized religious authority that prisoners can contact.
Littlepage said the person he recognizes as his spiritual leader lives in South Dakota and is more than 90 years old and unable to travel to the prison.
The lawsuit requests a federal judge to order the IDOC to reinstate Native American worship and study services at the prison, and allow Littlepage and other Native Americans to practice their religion.
Littlepage is requesting a preliminary injunction today from a federal judge to allow services to resume at the prison until the case is resolved.