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Harjo: O'Connor trampled on Native religious rights

"As politicians stake out ground for the fight over Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's replacement on the Supreme Court, the right is condemning her and the left is praising her for being a moderate, by which they mean a swing vote. In Indian cases too, she often has been the deciding vote, especially in decisions against the Native interest, but her overall record reflects an indecisive judicial philosophy regarding federal Indian law.

Her main area of consistency is that land-grabs of the past are not to be revisited and that actions cannot benefit Native people if they deprive non-Native people or states of anything.

She has been an important voice for the canon of construction that treaties and laws are to be interpreted in the way that Indians understand them. At the same time, she has approached Native religious freedom issues as if there were no history of violations of Native religious liberties and as if Native sacred places always belonged to the federal government.

O'Connor trampled on everyone's religious rights in a 1990 decision by proclaiming Oregon's compelling (read: superior) interest in prohibiting the ceremonial use of peyote by two state employees. Congress had to step in and enact broad, clarifying legislation about state burdens on religion, as well as an amendment to the American Indian Religious Freedom Act for peyote use by members of the Native American Church."

Get the Story:
Suzan Shown Harjo: O'Connor's footprints on Native sacred lands (Indian Country Today 7/8)

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