Copyright (c) 2008 The Regents of the University of California
Environs: Environmental Law & Policy Journal
ARTICLE: Navajo Nation v. United States Forest Service: Defining the Scope of Native American Freedom of Religious Exercise on Public Lands
31 Environs Envtl. L. & Pol'y J. 273
The framers of the Constitution recognized that free exercise of religion was an unalienable right and secured its protection in the First Amendment. 1 Early cases concerning religious freedom established that the Free Exercise Clause was to be read as requiring accommodation of an individual's sincerely held religious beliefs and conduct, except where the government could show a compelling interest and no less burdensome means to achieve such interest. 2 While Employment Division v. Smith abandoned this strict scrutiny test, 3 Congress attempted to resurrect the test through the enactment of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act ("RFRA"). 4
The interaction between religious exercise and RFRA becomes very complex when a government action involves public land use and regulations. The most recent case dealing with this issue is Navajo Nation v. United States Forest Service. 5 There, the Ninth Circuit read an expansive view of RFRA, conflicting with an earlier Supreme Court decision concerning religious liberty and federal land use, Lyng v. Northwest Indian Cemetery Protective Association. 6
This Note argues that the Ninth Circuit incorrectly decided Navajo Nation. 7 Part I of this Note discusses early judicial interpretations of the Free Exercise Clause and establishment of the strict scrutiny test. Part II provides a brief history of the Congressional response to the Supreme Court's interpretations of religious liberty under the Free Exercise Clause and RFRA. Part III outlines the Snowbowl litigation history, leading up to and including the Ninth Circuit's opinion. Part IV argues that the Ninth Circuit's ...
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