Religion, Law, and the Land: Native Americans and the Judicial Interpretation of Sacred Land

Religion, Law, and the Land: Native Americans and the Judicial Interpretation of Sacred Land

Religion, Law, and the Land: Native Americans and the Judicial Interpretation of Sacred Land

Religion, Law, and the Land: Native Americans and the Judicial Interpretation of Sacred Land

Synopsis

Examining a series of court decisions made during the 1980s regarding the legal claims of several Native American tribes who attempted to protect ancestrally revered lands from development schemes by the federal government, this book looks at important questions raised about the religious status of land. The tribes used the First Amendment right of free exercise of religion as the basis of their claim, since governmental action threatened to alter the land which served as the primordial sacred reality without which their derivative religious practices would be meaningless. Brown argues that a constricted notion of religion on the part of the courts, combined with a pervasive cultural predisposition towards land as private property, marred the Constitutional analysis of the courts to deprive the Native American plaintiffs of religious liberty.

Excerpt

In 1988 two radically distinct conceptions of land found formal expression within the broad forum of American political life. Neither conception was new, since both were rooted in ancient patterns of human relationship to the earth. The coincidence of their coming in the same year, however, sharpened their mutual contrast and identified their relative dominance at the close of the twentieth century. On the one hand, the Wise Use Movement was officially launched in August 1988 by the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise in Reno, Nevada. Representing the interests of ranchers, miners, loggers, gas and oil drilling operatives, real estate developers, and hosts of recreational vehicle owners, the Wise Use Movement has come to advocate an agenda that includes the lifting of all restrictions on the development of private property; the opening of all national parks, national wildlife refuges, wilderness areas, and all other protected lands to mining and oil and gas drilling; the encouragement of off-road vehicle use in areas of public lands where it has been prohibited; the clear-cutting and replanting of all ancient forests; and the amendment of the Endangered Species Act to exclude species deemed non-adaptive to human-induced changes in their natural habitat.

Attracting substantial corporate funding and providing common identity for otherwise disparate interest groups, the Wise Use Movement is a recent political expression of an otherwise inveterate conceit that sees land solely in terms of human exploitation. In its reductive vision, such a perspective is blind to the inherent value of land other than what it may yield for human use. As both legacy and perpetuation of an antiquated cosmology that minimized the moral significance of the natural world as so many insensible components of a similarly inanimate mechanism, the wise use . . .

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