Notre Dame Law School | February 11, 2021
The Notre Dame Law School Religious Liberty Initiative has filed an Amicus Brief in the United States District Court in the case Apache Stronghold vs. United States of America. The brief argues in favor of religious liberty protections for Oak Flat, an Indigenous sacred site in Arizona being threatened with destruction.
The brief was filed by Notre Dame Law Professor Stephanie Barclay, a First Amendment scholar who directs the Law School’s Religious Liberty Initiative, along with the Religious Liberty Initiative’s student cohort. “Our brief highlights a history of callousness and coercion against Indigenous sacred sites like Oak Flat. Our religious freedom laws wouldn’t allow the government to demolish churches with impunity, and the same should be true of a site that has been sacred to the Apache people for generations,” Barclay said. The brief represents Ramon Riley, the White Mountain Apache Tribe Cultural Resource Director, the Morning Star Institute, and the MICA Group (Multicultural Initiative for Community Advancement).
"Notre Dame’s campus is blessed with many sacred places: from the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes to the Basilica of the Sacred Heart. But for the Apache people, there is only one Oak Flat,” said Dan Loesing, a 2L student who took a lead role on this brief. “It's an honor to work to protect this historic sacred site and the free exercise rights of those who gather there for prayer and religious ceremonies."
In Apache Stronghold vs. United States of America, the District Court of Arizona may decide whether the ramifications of the Resolution Copper project meet the “substantial burden” requirements of the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The anticipated physical destruction of Oak Flat will leave an empty crater where religious gatherings and ceremonies once took place. The Amicus Brief filed by the Notre Dame Law School Religious Liberty Initiative pushes back against arguments by the government that would provide basically no religious freedom protections for Indigenous sacred sites, and that would result in disparate treatment between those sites and other similar types of non-Indigenous religious exercise.
Read more here.