Falling: Last Rites Rights

Darrell Rich, who took the name “Young Elk” in prison, wanted to participate in a Native American sweat lodge ceremony before he was put to death. Prison officials and California prosecutors, however, denied his request for the soul-purification rite. “One wonders whether the attorney general would make the ‘incapable of proof or refutation’ argument regarding the last rites of major religions,” wrote Judge Stephen Reinhardt, one of a coalition of 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judges who criticized the denial. “After all, no religious beliefs of which I am aware are susceptible of objective proof or refutation.” We do have irrefutable proof of one thing: Young Elk died without benefit of the death rites of his religion on March 15.

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