Charged with killing a bald eagle, a Native American faces a 'losing battle' against a law that he says limits practice of his religion.
Today we have our feet in two different kinds of mess: 1) Religious exceptionalism, 2) Native American Reservation Autonomy.
Winslow Friday, a Native America, shot and killed a bald eagle to gather tail feathers for a cousin's traditional dress for the Sun Dance, the most important celebration to his tribe. While bald eagle numbers have started to rebound, it is still against the law to kill them without a permit. The Federal government allows States to issue permits for scientific research, zoological displays, and religious ceremonies.
There are bald eagle repositories that collect and preserve bald eagles that have died from accidents or of natural causes to facilitate the collection of bald eagle parts without killing more bald eagles. Many tribes use the repository system including the Hopi.
Friday argued that repository feathers were insufficient and that the law restricts his freedom of religion and was not aware of the permit system.
The highest court to hear the case ruled against him.
Alright, first thing; as long as the law does not specifically inhibit a specific religious practice, cannot be argued to have been made in response to a specific religion or practice, and is generally applicable, it will generally withstand religious freedom arguments.
You can find the law itself here:
Next is the issue of Tribal Sovereignty. This is a very ugly mucky gray area with precedent overturned as fast as it is set. The general legal understanding is that they govern themselves as a state would. Though they do not enjoy all the privileges that states do with respect to the Federal Government (e.g. Senators, House Representatives, equal access to Federal Courts), they can enact certain laws in contravention of the US Constitution (e.g. they do not need to respect habeus corpus laws on the reservation). The rules vary from one Reservation to the next so it's a very fuzzy legal area.
Here is some stupid: That's a source of frustration for many tribes, said Suzan Shown Harjo, president of the Morning Star Institute in Washington, which advocates for traditional and cultural rights.
"Restrictions are a way of controlling the religions themselves," she said.
Antelope echoed that view: "People are fed with up with the federal government telling them: 'This is what you have to do for your religion. This is how we feel you should do it.' "
Actually it's not. The government say, 'don't do X because Y.'
She says, 'well my religion, R, says I can do X.'
The government replies, 'no, don't do X because Y.'
Reply, 'Stop telling me how to R.'
Do you see the logic? I don't.
If someone had a religion that said he had to hurl children into a pit to please the Rain God, Mayans, would laws prohibiting murder be a restriction of that religion? Not in the legal sense, no.
The reason to prohibit killing children is totally independent of the practice. Likewise, the Bald Eagle Protection Act was created to protect Bald Eagle populations, not to stop Native Americans from pleasing their Sun God.
Those laws were created and exist towards a secular end. That they also restrict a religious practice is moot.
Regardless, other tribes have made use of the permit system and the repositories and have not seen the need to break the law to please their gods. Why should Mr Friday or any other religious person be an exception?