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Native American Prisoner Settles with California State, Prison Officials over Religious Liberty

by Christopher Zoukis

Ralph Martinez, a Native American prisoner who was denied the use of elements fundamental to the practice of his religion while incarcerated at Calipatria State Prison in California, agreed to a settlement with state and corrections officials. Terms of the agreement were not disclosed.

     While imprisoned at Calipatria, Martinez was allegedly denied several components necessary for his spiritual practices, such as sacred plants and tobacco for use in ceremonies, burnable wood for a sweat lodge, access to the outdoors for ceremonies, a spiritual adviser and other religious items.

     On March 25, 2008, Martinez filed a complaint in federal court against several state and prison officials, including Governors Arnold Schwarzenegger and Edmund G. Brown, Jr., Calipatria guard H. Maciel, Nancy Mejia and Clauidia Richie. He argued that the restriction on his free exercise of his religious beliefs violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, the First Amendment, the California constitution, and state law.

     On November 7, 2011, Brown, Maciel, Mejia, Macias and Richie were dismissed from the case. A final settlement was reached with the remaining defendants and the case was dismissed by Judge Roger T. Benitez on February 21, 2012.

See: Martinez v. Schwarzenegger, et al., United States District Court for the Southern District of California, 3:08-cv-00565-BEN-JMA (Feb. 21, 2012)

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Related legal case

Martinez v. Schwarzenegger, et al.