The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco denied an en banc hearing for plaintiffs in Slockish v. U.S. Federal Highway Administration. The decision denies the opportunity to consider the merits of a religious liberty case filed by an American religious minority.
Hereditary chiefs Wilbur Slockish and Johnny Jackson, spiritual leaders of the Klickitat and Cascade Tribes of the Yakama Nation in Eastern Oregon, had sued the government after it had bulldozed their ancestral burial grounds. These lands had been used by the Yakima for centuries for vision quests, water ceremonies, to gather food and medicine, and bury their dead. The Federal Highway Administration razed these burial grounds, destroyed a sacred stone altar, and removed safe access to the site. Protect The First Foundation and the Harvard Law School Religious Freedom Clinic joined a coalition of religious liberty groups to brief the court on the facts and principles of this case.
In this denial, the Ninth Circuit missed an opportunity to stand up not just for the religious rights of Native Americans, but also to recognize the protections of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the Free Exercise Clause of the U.S. Constitution. At stake are not just the rights of the Yakama tribes, but also the rights of Jews, Catholics and Protestants, Sikhs, Muslims, and Americans of all religions.
Fortunately, there is another opportunity for the court to take a stand for religious liberty.
Protect The 1st is hopeful that the Ninth Circuit will take a more favorable stance for the Apache tribes of Arizona, whose sacred lands at Oak Flat in the Tonto National Forest are being transferred by the government to a foreign mining company.