January 27, 2009

Long hair = religious freedom

Two articles indicate how Native still have to fight for rights that others take for granted:

American Indian inmates fight state prisons' hair-length policyAlabama is one of 12 mostly Southern states that prohibit inmates from wearing long hair while incarcerated. The rest of the United States and the District of Columbia either permit inmates to grow their hair long for religious reasons or have no rule against it, according to a survey that has been admitted as evidence in the case.

Of the 25,303 inmates in state prisons, 195 are Native American.

"There is a striking parallel between the forcible cutting of Native American hair and the former Confederate states," said Mark Sabel, a Montgomery attorney representing the eight men who are suing the department.

"These are your former slave states and they are the same ones that prohibit the full observance of Native American religious traditions."

Sabel said there is no reason that Southern states can't allow Native Americans to wear their hair according to their custom, particularly since so many other states and even the federal prison system allows it.
ACLU Wins Ruling Protecting Kindergartener's Religious ExpressionThe American Civil Liberties Union of Texas and the ACLU today praised a federal judge's decision that Needville Independent School District (NISD) violated the Constitution and state law by punishing a five-year-old American Indian kindergarten student for practicing and expressing his family's religious beliefs and heritage. The decision permanently forbids NISD from applying its policy requiring the student to wear his long hair in a tight braid stuffed down his shirt at all times.

"By standing up for their rights, this child and his parents achieved an important victory not just for themselves but for all Texas school children, whatever their religion," said Lisa Graybill, Legal Director for the ACLU of Texas. "Schools must accommodate student religious beliefs in their dress codes—and that applies equally to Catholic students' right to wear a rosary or Jewish students' right to wear a yarmulke as it does to our American Indian client's right to wear his braids."
Comment:  When the Texas case first appeared in the media, I thought, "Why bother fighting this issue, school district? You're going to lose and rightly so." Now, inevitably, the school district has lost.

So the states that deny Indians freedom of religion expression are mostly Southern states. I believe the others are Midwestern states such as Kansas. What does that tell us?

These states allowed slavery...fought the civil rights movement...reliably vote Republican...are full of conservative Christians...think creationism is right and evolution is wrong...etc. They also don't believe in freedom of religion for anyone but themselves. Coincidence? I don't think so.

For more on the subject, see such postings as Bible Permits Treaty-Breaking, Prisons Limit Native Religion, and Republicans Block Indian Legislation.

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