The San Carlos Apache and other tribes in Arizona won a reprieve of sorts when the U.S. Forest Service, part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, recently announced it would restart its consultation with the tribes before publishing an environmental review. This review could block or clear a land swap that would result in the destruction of the tribes’ sacred land widely known as Oak Flat in the Tonto National Forest.
Now Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey has intervened, asking the Department of Agriculture to reverse its decision to freeze the land swap, enabling foreign mining interests to mine the land.
If the project moves forward, the Apache’s sacred land, where the tribes pray and hold ceremonies, will be transformed into a 2-mile-wide crater.
“This case at the very least shows that the Arizona government’s respect for the Religious Freedom Restoration Act is spotty at best in its application to smaller and less politically connected religious minorities,” said Protect The 1st general counsel Gene Schaerr. “If this act, which protects religious freedom as guaranteed by the First Amendment, is trashed for one group, ultimately it can be trashed for all groups.”
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