Unconstitutional Oxymoron: Closing Sacred Public Land
One crystal clear summer day in southern Utah in the American southwest,
a tourist came to the Rainbow Bridge
But this beautiful day suddenly turned ugly. Said the tourist, "I
was prevented from walking under [Rainbow
What that tourist had encountered was the official policy of the NPS, adopted in response to the demands of American Indians and formalized by an agreement between the NPS and American Indians. Under that policy, the NPS, using its signs, websites, brochures, barriers, lectures, threats of arrest and citation, moral suasion, public ridicule, and other techniques, does all in its power to ensure that every visitor to the Monument shows "respect" for American Indians' belief that Rainbow Bridge is divine; it is "the Rainbow God!"
In fact, the NPS has given management of the Monument over to American Indians agreeing that "the religious and sacred significance of the area to various American Indians" is the main determinant of how it will be managed. As a result, the NPS cut tourist visits in half! Today, for hundreds of thousands of Americans, the Monument is closed.
The First Amendment's Establishment Clause provides, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion...." The Supreme Court interprets that phrase to ensure "government neutrality in religious matters." It is no defense, rules the Supreme Court, for the government to argue that a violation is minor. "The breach of neutrality that is today a trickling stream may all too soon become a raging torrent," held the Supreme Court in 1963, "and, it is proper to take alarm at the first experiment on our liberties." Some say the federal government's acquiescence already has become that "raging torrent."
In Montana, federal officials closed the Lewis and Clark National Forest to energy development because Indians say it is sacred, this at a time when 250,000 Americans prepare for war in the Middle East.
In Wyoming, federal officials closed an entire mountain in the Bighorn National Forest to timber harvesting because Indians say it is sacred, this at a time when drought and fuel build-up are causing catastrophic forest fires.
In New Mexico, federal officials closed federal land to ski expansion
because Indians say it is sacred; in Wyoming,
What is most remarkable about all this is that, in 1988, the Supreme
Court ruled that federal lands may not be closed to meet religious
demands by American Indians. Perhaps the officials who are closing
these lands and the lawyers who are defending them could explain to
the tourist at Rainbow Bridge why their view of the Constitution differs
so markedly from hers and from that of the U.S. Supreme Court.
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