Native American Council of Tribes v. Weber

A group of Native Americans challenged a policy implemented by prison authorities that banned all use of tobacco, including for religious purposes.  South Dakota has the highest rate of Native Americans in the prison system and some of them use tobacco as part of their religious ceremonies.   After gradually reducing the availability of tobacco in the prisons, the policy changed to complete ban.  The prisoners challenged the ban based on religious freedom and the corresponding federal legislation (RULIPA).  The court held the prisoners had shown the total ban on tobacco was a substantial burden on the exercise of their religion and that the authorities had not demonstrated a compelling governmental interest, or that they had used the least restrictive means to further that interest.  The court ordered the parties to agree to a new policy embodying the court’s decision and submit it to the court for approval.