Indian prison inmates won't accept an offer from the state to build a quasi-sweat lodge in settlement of a federal court suit aimed at forcing the Utah State Prison to permit the Indians to practice their religion.
A prepared release from the state Department of Corrections said the department would allow the Indians "a facility to be built which will serve the purpose of a sweat lodge" but allow constant observation by prison staff.Danny Quintana, attorney for the six native Americans, called the state's proposed structure a "greenhouse" and said in rejecting the offer, "a sweat ceremony cannot be conducted in a greenhouse."
Instead, his clients are seeking to force the state to permit them to build a willow-pole and blanket dome structure, heated by rocks warmed in a fire, similar to sweat lodges used in prisons in nine other Western states.
"The sweat lodge just has to be built as it's built in other prisons, there's nothing complex about it," said Quintana, who filed a motion this week in federal court asking the court to allow the sweat lodge to be built.
The sweat lodge is essential to the Indian's religious practices and prohibiting them from building the structure is an abridgment of their First Amendment right to freely practice their religion, Quintana said.
Corrections officials have said the sweat lodge would compromise security because up to six inmates could be conducting ceremonies at one time inside the sweat lodge without being under the supervision of prison staff.
"We will never compromise nor negotiate safety or security," Corrections Executive Director Gary DeLand said in a prepared release. "However, we will attempt to meet any reasonable request that does not affect the safety or security concerns of the (prison)."
But Quintana said the proposal is unacceptable. "I consulted with the Native Americans and their response was no." He played down the security concerns that correction officials said arise from use of the sweat lodge.
"They (prison staff) are free to inspect it (the sweat lodge) at any time, including during the ceremony," Quintana said.
"I'm disappointed that Corrections has taken such a hard line but I'm not surprised. Unfortunately, the attorney general's office has to do what Corrections tells them," Quintana said. U.S. District Judge Thomas Greene took Quintana's motion under advisement.