Thursday, February 09, 2012

Tribal Free Exercise Challenge To Road Project May Continue

In Slockish v. U.S. Federal Highway Administration, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 14422 (D OR, Feb. 6, 2012), an Oregon federal district court adopted a magistrate's recommendations (2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 152892, Sept. 21, 2011), and allowed members of the Yakima Nation Indian tribe to proceed with free exercise and RFRA claims against the Federal Highway Administration. In the case, plaintiffs claimed that a road widening project damaged sacred burial grounds, destroyed religious artifacts and buried a historic camp site, and that a new guard rail blocked their access to the camp site. The court, distinguishing the Supreme Court's decision in Lyng v. Northwest Indian Protective Association, held that there are disputes of fact that prevent granting summary judgment to defendants. The court, however, rejected a number of claims, including assertions of a protected right to maintain traditional culture and a claimed right of familial association to meditate and worship in the presence of ancestors.