Religious Freedom Restoration Act Cited by Tribes

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe (SRST) and the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe (CRST)  have joined forces in court.  They both cite the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in their court battle against the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) and the ACoE (Army Corp of Engineers).

Religious Freedom Restoration Act

On March 26, 2015, then Governor Mike Pence signed Senate Bill 101 RFRA (Religious Freedom Restoration Act) into law.    At the time Pence was considering running for the office of POTUS

Upon the signatory completion of said Bill 101,  Pence made a statement.   He said that “[t]he Constitution of the United States and the Indiana Constitution both provides strong recognition of the freedom of religion.”   He finished by saying “But today, many people of faith feel their religious liberty is under attack by government action.”

Furthermore, in April 2015, future POTUS and current candidate, Donald Trump spoke out about the RFRA.   He said that ” Indiana Governor Mike Pence “didn’t do a good job.”   Trump also said of Pence; “He wasn’t clear in what he said.”  The future POTUS then stated that religious freedom and nondiscrimination aren’t “mutually exclusive.”

The 1993 RFRA requires that the government ACoE will have to demonstrate a compelling interest and put to use the least restrictive means to achieve that interest without a substantial burden on the tribe’s religious practices.

Sacred Ceremonies

Both tribes cite the prophecy of the black snake that comes to poison the waters.   Waters, the tribes say, that are needed for religious and sacred ceremonies.  So, beyond the environmental concerns, both SRST Chairman Archambault and CRST Chairman Frazier are pointedly concerned about the effect the pipeline’s authorization has on the existential threat and destruction of the tribes’ religion and way of life.

Even if approving the DAPL served a compelling governmental interest, RFRA may require the ACoE to show that the pipeline easement under Lake Oahe would have the least impact on tribal religion.

Resolution of this case will depend on whether the court decides that there is legitimacy towards the Tribes’ religious concerns.  If the RFRA government advantage is broadly applied by the court, it will re-affirm that Pence’s signature on one of the most controversial bills to pass under his governorship (Bill 101) was merely staged for his own political expediency.

(Pictured – SRST Chairman David Archambault, right and CRST Chairman Harold Frazier, left – Photo Credit WDAY 6/Fargo, ND)

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