Monday, August 11, 2008

Navajo Nation v. U.S. Forest Service

Aug 8: In the U.S. Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit, Case Nos. 06-15371, 06-15436, 06-15455. In these consolidated cases, involving claims of violations of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), with numerous parties, the en banc Appeals Court issued a split decision with three Justices issuing a lengthy dissent. As summarized in the dissenting opinion, "The en banc majority today holds that using treated sewage effluent to make artificial snow on the most sacred mountain of southwestern Indian tribes does not violate the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). It also holds that a supposed pleading mistake prevents the tribes from arguing under the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) that the Forest Service failed to consider the likelihood that children and others would ingest snow made from the effluent."

The majority defines the case saying, American Indians ask us to prohibit the Federal government from allowing the use of artificial snow for skiing on a portion of a public mountain sacred in their religion. At the heart of their claim is the planned use of recycled wastewater, which contains 0.0001% human waste, to make artificial snow. The Plaintiffs claim the use of such snow on a sacred mountain desecrates the entire mountain, deprecates their religious ceremonies, and injures their religious sensibilities.

The majority says, "We are called upon to decide whether this government approved use of artificial snow on government-owned park land violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA) . . ., the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA), 42 U.S.C. §§ 4321 et seq., and the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA), 16 U.S.C. §§ 470 et seq. We hold that it does not, and affirm the district court’s denial of relief on all grounds."

Access the complete opinion and dissent (
click here).

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