Friday, May 04, 2018

Rulemaking Petition Seeks Changes In Eagle Feather Restrictions

Yesterday the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty announced the filing of a formal Rulemaking Petition (full text) with the Department of Interior on behalf of Native American feather dancer Robert Soto.  The petition seeks rule changes that would expand the ability of Native Americans who are not members of federally recognized tribes to use eagle feathers in their religious worship:
The Department’s regulations are so restrictive that they ban all kinds of sincere religious behavior. Today, nearly every bird species native to North America is federally protected.  So, a grandmother who bestows an eagle feather on her nonenrolled grandson to honor his college graduation turns both herself and her grandson into criminals. A Native American teenager adopted by a non-Native family breaks the law when he prays with a feather to reconnect with the spirits of his ancestors. And a member of a state-recognized tribe is subject to prosecution merely for possessing a single protected feather....
Effective reform in this area would do three things: First, it would broaden the Morton Policy to include all sincere religious believers who use federally protected feathers in their religious exercise—as both the Constitution and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) require. Second, it would officially promulgate this policy as a formal rule rather than rely on informal guidance, ending decades of legal limbo that has had disastrous consequences for many Native Americans. Third, it would empower Native American tribes to help combat the illegal commercialization of federally protected feathers.
The petition grows out of the settlement of a suit challenging current rules. (See prior related posting.)