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Settlement allows Alaska inmate to wear some religious Native regalia

Jun 6, 2019

An example of a bear pendant that Alaska Department of Corrections inmate Brian Hall sought to wear as part of his religious observance as a member of the Cherokee Nation. (Photo courtesy American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska)

A settlement will allow a descendant of the Cherokee Nation to wear some religious Native regalia while serving time in Alaska. 

According to an ACLU news release, inmate Brian Hall wanted to wear a bear claw pendant and one of six bandanas -- as part of his religious observance.

ACLU of Alaska  communications director Casey Reynolds says even inmates should have a First Amendment right to practice their faith in prison.

“You have a right to do that so long as there's not a compelling government interest in stopping you, such as if it creates a safety concern or something along those lines,” Reynolds said.

While an inmate at Goose Creek Correctional Center in Wasilla, the civil rights organization says Hall made multiple requests to Corrections officials.

Hall cited the state constitution as well as the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act.

According to the ACLU, the Alaska Department of Corrections denied his requests. The state DOC said the items could create a safety risk.

“So we filed suit on behalf of Mr. Hall, making it clear that the Department of Corrections has to respect everybody's religious rights -- especially non-Christians like Native Americans and others whose request may not be mainstream, or may not be common.”

The settlement also requires the DOC to adopt a policy to allow future religious accommodations to prisoners according to federal law.

The DOC officially signed the settlement May 30, and the paperwork was filed in court June 4.

Now 43 years old, Brian Hall continues to serve a 159-year sentence on murder charges stemming from a double homicide in Alaska in 1993. He was transferred to Wildwood Correctional Center in Kenai, Alaska.

Court records identify Hall as a member of the Cherokee Nation – but did not include specific tribal information.