Norton undermines religious freedom

  Dear HCN,

The recent decision by the Department of the Interior to approve the Fence Lake coal mine is at the very least a travesty (HCN, 6/24/02: The Latest Bounce). To put a place of such spiritual importance on the chopping block in order to meet the selfish, short-term needs of Phoenix stands as yet another maneuver by the government to undermine and erode the religious base of American Indians.

To understand the government's thinking, one need only to look at the 1988 Supreme Court case Lyng vs. Northwest Indian Cemetery Protective Association. An excellent discussion of the larger issues related to sacred lands can be found in Vine Deloria Jr.'s book, For This Land. Deloria builds a very convincing argument in the chapter "Sacred Lands and Religious Freedom."

Interior Secretary Gale Norton should realize the hypocrisy in her Fence Lake decision, as it violates the basic tenets of religious freedom. But then, we all know that the right to express and practice one's religion freely has been, historically, very selective.

David Rockwell
Suffield, Connecticut

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