Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Wyoming tribe gets Federal Permit to kill bald eagles for religious ceremonies.

In a rare and potentially landmark decision, a Wyoming Indian tribe has received federal approval to kill two bald eagles for religious ceremonies, the Associated Press reports.
The Northern Arapaho Tribe had sued the government last year, arguing its members' religious freedom was being violated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's refusal to issue a "take" permit.
Federal law prohibits killing a bald eagle, the national bird. Eagle feathers and body parts are kept in a federal repository for tribal religious ceremonies.
The agency issued the permit Friday, allowing the tribe to kill two bald eagles off the Wind River Indian Reservation.

I have a real problem with this.  The 1st amendment says  " Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;..   That means that there are no separate laws for people based on their religion.  No one gets special privileges regarding laws because of their religion right? Well, here is the law ..

§ 668a. Taking and using of the bald and golden eagle for scientific, exhibition, and religious purposes

Whenever, after investigation, the Secretary of the Interior shall determine that it is compatible with the preservation of the bald eagle or the golden eagle to permit the taking, possession, and transportation of specimens thereof for the scientific or exhibition purposes of public museums, scientific societies, and zoological parks, or for the religious purposes of Indian tribes, or that it is necessary to permit the taking of such eagles for the protection of wildlife or of agricultural or other interests in any particular locality, he may authorize the taking of such eagles pursuant to regulations which he is hereby authorized to prescribe: ... 

Provided further, That bald eagles may not be taken for any purpose unless, prior to such taking, a permit to do so is procured from the Secretary of the Interior 
File:Ken Salazar official DOI portrait.jpg
Ken Salazar, Secretary of the Interior, the guy who grants eagle killing permits
Well I'm not a lawyer, but when the words in the law provide an exclusion for particular religions that says clear and loud that the law respects an establishment of religion.   So I think the whole law stinks.

But if it is the law then I would like to know if the Secretary of the Interior was involved in the procurement of this permit.  The law is clear to identify the Secretary as the one who must grant the permit.  I wonder if Ken Salazar actually granted the permit himself.  If not, I wonder to whom authority was subjugated.

The story of killing bald eagles goes back to another Wyoming Native American who shot and killed a bald eagle and then claimed a religious defense when the Dept of Justice was prosecuting him.  And the judge agreed. Arapaho man makes appeal on eagle killing charge
Friday the eagle killer who got off

Late last year, U.S. District Judge William F. Downes agreed, dismissing the criminal charge against Friday.
“Although the government professes respect and accommodation of the religious practices of Native Americans, its actions show callous indifference to such practices,” Downes wrote in his ruling. “It is clear to this court that the government has no intention of accommodating the religious beliefs of Native Americans except on its own terms and in its own good time.”

That's a load of crap.   There is nothing in the Constitution that says the Government shall accommodate any particular religious practice for anyone including Native Americans.   and this nugget..

John T. Carlson, an assistant federal public defender representing Friday, argued the Fish and Wildlife Service kept the existence of permits quiet and instead tried to point Indians toward a federal repository in Denver that stores the remains of eagles killed by power lines or other causes.
Requiring Native Americans to secure permits to kill eagles infringes on their religious freedom, Carlson said.
“No other religion has a permit system denying it access to its sacred objects,” Carlson said.
How exactly did the Fish and Wildlife Service keep a public Federal law secret from the tribe's legal staff ? The Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act (BGEPA) has been the intersection where the law and the freedom of religion have been crashing for decades.   And the reason other religions don't need a permit to obtain their sacred objects is that it isn't a Federal crime to obtain them otherwise.  Here is the key point in this article about the evolution of the law that protects the American National Symbol.    Detailed Discussion of the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act
 Interestingly, it is not the enforcement of the statute nor the stringent penalties associated with it that have created the most controversy for the courts. Rather, it is the limitation of the use of eagle parts to Native Americans and the concomitant constitutional challenges that target the BGEPA. 
I think the reason that this part of the law has been so controversial is that it was unconstitutional from the start.  The original law should not have been amended in 1962 to provide exclusions to kill bald eagles for religious purposes, that was the camel's nose under the wigwam.   The law should neither respect nor purposely disrespect any religion or their sacred objects.  However if a particular sacred object is illegal for some people it can't be legal for other people based on their religion.  That is the entire freaking point of the 1st Amendment. The words are as clear as a crack in the ice you are walking on.

Another point, if the law allows some Native Americans the religious freedom to fire away at bald eagles, it can't very well deny others the right to do so.  Civil rights aren't doled out while supplies last.  But the Secretary of the Interior sure can't grant a permit to everyone who shows up at the office wanting to kill an eagle or the species would go extinct.  So how do they pick who gets one of the coveted permits to kill an eagle?

Maybe they could make it a contest at the casino.

No comments:

Post a Comment