Tuesday, August 28, 2007

9th Circuit: Forest Service Ban On Rock Climbing OK Under Establishment Clause

In The Access Fund v. United States Department of Agriculture, (9th Cir., Aug. 27, 2007), the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a decision by the U.S. Forest Service to ban recreational rock climbing on Cave Rock, a large rock formation on the eastern shore of Lake Tahoe in Nevada. Cave Rock is a sacred site for the Washoe Indian tribe, and the Washoes consider rock climbing to be a desecration of the site. Plaintiff, a climbing advocacy group, argued that the Forest Service's decision violated the Establishment Clause. The court, however, disagreed, finding that the Forest Service had a secular purpose in banning rock climbing-- the preservation of an historic cultural area. It also held that "the climbing ban cannot be fairly perceived as an endorsement of Washoe religious practices." Judge Wallace concurred, but said he did not believe that the Lemon test should be used to decide the case. The AP yesterday reported on the decision. [Thanks to Robert H. Thomas for the lead.]