Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Court Rejects RFRA Challenge To Dakota Access Pipeline

In Standing Rock Sioux Tribe v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, (D DC, March 7, 2017), the D.C. federal district court denied a preliminary injunction requested by the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe which objects to the presence of oil in the pipeline under Lake Oahe.  It asserted a claim under RFRA that the easement under the lake will cause irreparable harm to its members’ religious exercise. The court held first:
Because of the Plaintiff’s delay in raising this religious-exercise objection and the negative impact of that delay on the Corps and Dakota Access, the Court concludes that the requested preliminary-injunctive relief is barred by laches.
Moving to the merits, the court also concluded that the Tribe has failed to demonstrate a likelihood of success, saying in part:
The government action here — i.e., granting the easement to Dakota Access and thereby enabling the flow of oil beneath Lake Oahe — does not impose a sanction on the Tribe’s members for exercising their religious beliefs, nor does it pressure them to choose between religious exercise and the receipt of government benefits. Cheyenne River argues that whether it has been subjected to such sanction or pressure is irrelevant ... and contends instead that it is sufficient for purposes of showing substantial burden that the effect of the government’s action is to prevent the Tribe’s members from performing required religious sacraments at Lake Oahe.... That argument, however, is directly at odds with Supreme Court precedent.
The Hill reports on the decision.