H.R. 1884 – the Save Oak Flat Act introduced by Rep. Raúl Grijalva of Arizona – now has 100 co-sponsors with Thursday’s addition of Rep. David Price (D-NC).
This bill repeals the authority of the federal government to swap almost 2,500 acres in Arizona’s Tonto National Forest and give it to a foreign mining company. The swap, if allowed to go forward, includes the Oak Flat area that has been used as sacred ceremonial grounds by the Apache for centuries. If that happens, this centerpiece of the Apache religion would be transformed into a copper mine that would leave a hole as long as the Washington Mall and two Washington Monuments deep.
Rep. Grijalva’s bill, which would stop the land swap and the mine, continues to gain support, including the backing of Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK).
On the judicial side, there is also new reason for hope. As the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit weighs its decision on the fate of these lands, that court must now consider a binding precedent that is only days old. In Ramirez v. Collier, the Supreme Court in an 8-1 opinion protected religious expression from a burden in a context that is far narrower than the one in the Oak Flat case.
Support for the Apache is building because recognition is growing that at Oak Flat the religious rights of all Americans are at stake.