The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled on Friday that a copper mining project did not violate the First Amendment religious rights of local Apache Native Americans.
A 2014 act of Congress requires the US Secretary of Agriculture to give Resolution Copper, a mining company, land called Oak Flat, which is a sacred site for American Apache Indians. In the land swap, Resolution Copper will donate nearby land to the US government. Following Oak Flat’s transmission to Resolution Copper, Apache Stronghold, a non-profit organization, sued the government for allegedly violating “the Religious Liberty Restoration Act, the free exercise clause of the first amendment of the Constitution and an obligation of confidence imposed” on the United States because of the Treaty of Santa Fe of 1852 between the United States and the Apaches.
The court said the US government is “making religious practice more difficult all the time”, including the land swap making worship “impossible” in Oak Flat. Moreover, the Apaches are not pressured by the land exchange to renounce their religion by a threat of negative outcome. Overall, the court found that the rights allegedly violated did not provide Apache Stronghold with the relief it was seeking in this lawsuit.
In her dissent, Judge Marsha Berzon used the words “absurd”, “illogical”, “hypocritical” and “incoherent”.[t]to describe the decision.
In a press release, Apache Stronghold pledged to immediately appeal the Ninth Circuit’s decision to the United States Supreme Court.