Thursday, August 21, 2014

5th Circuit: Interior's Eagle Feather Rules Violate RFRA

In McAllen Grace Brethren Church v. Salazar, (5th Cir., Aug. 20, 2014), the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals held that the Department of Interior had not sufficiently shown that its policy of limiting permits for the possession of eagle feathers to members of federally recognized tribes meets the strict scrutiny requiremnts of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The regulations were adopted in order to enforce the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. At isssue was the use of eagle feathers at a powwow by a member of the Lipan Apaches which is not a federally recognized tribe. The court concluded that even if the government has a compelling interest in protecting eagles and furthering its relationship with federally recognized tribes, "the Department has not sufficiently demonstrated at this stage of the proceedings that the current regulatory framework is the least restrictive means of achieving its goals." Reuters reports on the decision.