Sacred Land News
On June 8, the U.S. Supreme Court denied the petition by numerous Native American tribes and environmental groups to hear a case to protect the San Francisco Peaks. The Snowbowl ski area’s plan to expand on the Peaks and make snow from treated sewage effluent will now proceed.
“The Supreme Court’s denial of certiorari in the Navajo Nation case is unfortunate to say the least,” said Jack Trope of the Association on American Indian Affairs, who is working with DNA Legal Services, representing the Hualapai Tribe, Navajo medicine practitioner Norris Nez and Hopi spiritual practitioner Bill Preston. “It means that the San Francisco Peaks, sacred to so many tribes, will continue to be at great risk from the development approved by the Forest Service that allows treated sewage water to be used for snowmaking. It also means that the Ninth Circuit’s narrow interpretation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) – an interpretation which in practice will make that law virtually unavailable to protect sacred lands in the states covered by the Ninth Circuit – will stand.”
According to the previous ruling of the en banc panel of the Ninth Circuit, “the only effect of the proposed upgrades is on the Plaintiffs’ subjective, emotional religious experience. That is, the presence of recycled wastewater on the Peaks is offensive to the Plaintiffs’ religious sensibilities…the diminishment of spiritual fulfillment – serious though it may be – is not a ‘substantial burden’ on the free exercise of religion.” The Court dismissed Plaintiffs’ religious beliefs as calling them mere “damaged spiritual feelings.” Regrettably, the Supreme Court’s refusal to hear the case leaves the en banc panel’s decision in place as the law in the Ninth Circuit.
Please take action by writing a letter or contacting your member of congress and the Obama Administration to urge them to take action to guarantee protection for Native American religious freedom. President Obama stated in his Native American policy statement before his election: “Native American sacred places and site-specific ceremonies are under threat from development, pollution, and vandalism. Barack Obama supports legal protections for sacred places and cultural traditions, including Native ancestors’ burial grounds and churches.” Urge the president to honor this commitment.
Also, June 21 will be an international day of prayer for sacred sites. You can participate from wherever you are. Invite friends, hold a discussion about the issues, spread awareness wherever you may be!
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