[JURIST] The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) announced Wednesday that a Native American prisoner in Wyoming had settled his lawsuit [ACLU press release] against the Wyoming Department of Corrections after Department officials agreed to allow the man to keep up to four eagle feathers in his cell for religious purposes. Andrew John Yellowbear, a member of the Northern Arapaho Tribe, was incarcerated in the Wyoming State Penitentiary (WSP) [official website] in 2006 after receiving a life sentence [Star-Tribune report] for the murder of his daughter. He alleged in his suit [docket] that he was only allowed one eagle feather in his cell even though Department policy [text, PDF] allows for more, and that WSP officials confiscated that one feather after he filed the lawsuit, all in violation of the First Amendment, the Equal Protection Clause and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) [texts]. The ACLU agreed to represent him [press release] earlier this month, and ACLU staff attorney Stephen Pevar said of the settlement:
The fact that officials at WSP will now ensure that American Indian prisoners have access to eagle feathers is a great victory for religious freedom. The feathers are used to communicate prayers to the Creator and to receive answers to prayers. Denying Mr. Yellowbear these highly spiritual feathers was akin to denying Catholics access to a rosary or crucifix.The Casper Star-Tribune has more.
Yellowbear had initially petitioned the US Fish and Wildlife Service's National Eagle Repository [official website] for 10 feathers, the most allowed under law. Under US law [16 USC s. 668 text], only the National Eagle Repository may distribute bald and golden eagle feathers, and petitioners for the feathers must be enrolled members of a federally recognized tribe seeking them for religious purposes.