MADISON — A
Navajo Indian imprisoned in Wisconsin can wear a headband in his
cell and celebrate a tribal feast with wild venison, a federal
appeals court has ruled.
filed a federal lawsuit in Madison in 2011 demanding he be allowed
to wear a colorful headband while he prays and celebrate his
tribe's annual Ghost Feast with tacos containing venison rather
than the beef stew prison officials offer.
Judge William Conley dismissed Schlemm's demands last year, ruling
that prison regulations barring colorful headbands prevent gang
members from identifying themselves. Prohibiting Schlemm from
eating wild meat doesn't impose a substantial burden on his
religion and the state has a compelling interest in both holding
down food costs and using inspected meat, Conley wrote.
panel from the 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals reversed Conley
on Tuesday. Judge Frank Easterbrook wrote that Schlemm's headband
isn't a plausible means of signaling gang membership since he has
offered to wear it only in his cell or at group religious
ceremonies and it will contain only earth tones that aren't
associated with gangs.
As for the wild
venison, Easterbrook said that saving a few dollars and a
"bureaucratic desire" to follow the rules aren't
compelling reasons to deny the meat. The Religious Land Use and
Institutionalized Persons Act requires prisons to change their
rules to accommodate religious practices, he noted.
He rejected the
state's contention that providing wild venison would be unsafe,
noting the meat is consumed widely. He also noted the prisons
allow external food for Passover and sweat lodges, making it
"hard to credit an argument that any culinary accommodation
will bring the prison's administration to its knees."
demanded weekly sweat lodge ceremonies rather than monthly as well
as the right to smoke a personal pipe and wear traditional attire
such as a ribbon shirt or bear-claw jewelry. Conley ruled that
Schlemm failed to exhaust the prison system's internal request
process on those demands. The 7th Circuit panel agreed.
Anne E. Schwartz,
a spokeswoman for the state Justice Department, which handled the
lawsuit on behalf of the Department of Corrections, declined
convicted in 1999 of kidnapping, battery and multiple counts of
sexual assault. He's not eligible for parole until 2026; his
mandatory release date is 2072. He was being held at the Wisconsin
Secure Program Facility, the state's most secure prison, when he
filed the lawsuit but has since been moved to the Green Bay
show Schlemm represented himself in the case. A Corrections
spokeswoman didn't immediately respond to an email inquiring about
how to contact him.