A federal court decision striking down a Utah State Prison ban on an Indian religious ceremony won't be challenged, an official of the state Department of Corrections said.
But Scott McAlister, inspector general for the Corrections Department, said further litigation is likely over rules being drafted for the use of so-called sweat lodges in the observation of an Indian religious ceremony.U.S. District Judge J. Thomas Greene ruled last Thursday that allowing the willow and canvas structures to be used by Indian inmates did not threaten prison security as the Corrections Department had claimed.
The structures, which can be temporary or permanent, are called sweat lodges because heated rocks are placed inside and doused with water to produce steam. Those gathered within the structure are thought to sweat out impurities.
The ceremony, conducted by a designated religious leader, also includes the smoking of a ceremonial pipe containing non-hallucinogenic grasses and herbs as well as recitation of prayers.
McAlister is scheduled to travel to four Mountain West states - Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Nevada - next week to study the use of sweat lodges in other prison systems.
That information will be used in the drafting of procedures that will have to be followed by inmates using sweat lodges in Utah. McAlister estimated that the structures could be in place within two months.
However, he predicted there will be disagreement and even further legal action over some of the procedures based on his experience with instituting sweat lodges in Oregon as an assistant attorney general in that state.
Possible bones of contention include limits on the number of inmates allowed to be in a sweat lodge at one time, which inmates would be given access to the sweat lodge and how the ceremonies would be monitored.
McAlister said he is especially concerned about the possibility that illegal drugs could be smuggled in to the prison to be smoked in the pipes instead of the ceremonial substances.
To prevent that, some kind of security routine will have to be established to examine the people and materials being brought into the sweat lodges, he said.
Such scrutiny has led to charges that the sanctity of the ceremony is being violated and assertions that the sweat lodge itself is on sacred land, not to be tread upon by non-Indians.
Attorneys for the Indian inmates who fought a two-year battle to lift the ban want to wait and see how the Corrections Department handles sweat lodges.
McAlister said the sweat lodge proponents will not be invited to participate in setting up the procedures. "They have nothing to contribute," he said. "This is not a legal issue, this is a correctional issue."