Freedom of Religion with an Eagle Feather

I was reading on the American Humanist Association Blog, Rant & Reason and this article caught my attention:  Free Association on Religious Rights

The author was commenting on a story in the LA Times about a court case of a Native American killing an Eagle for use in a sacred ceremony.

The blogger Eagle Feathersseemed to be looking at both sides of the implications of using the birds for religious purpose and kept the argument general, not specific to the case. I read the LA Times article. The case will be settled by plea bargain because the initial dismissal was overturned by the appellate court and was rejected by the Supreme Court so it’s either plea or trial and a trial would be costly and drag on with absolutely no way to predict the outcome.

The post only had a few comments. One was a link to a UTube video with a strange pun preceding it. I didn’t watch it. It seemed to be a self-serving link, but I’m not sure. The other 2 comments made comments about the acquisition of Eagles for use by Native Americans.

One was a bit snide–if they want to hunt the birds as they did before the Europeans arrived, let them hunt them without rifles. While the idea of hunting with traditional weapons appeals to me in an aesthetic sense, I don’t think that’s how it was intended.

The other was a bit ignorant–use a substitute until the Eagles don’t need to be protected. )As if it is their fault the Eagles are endangered and if they will have to find a substitute anyway after they kill them all.) Like that’s not what so many people do already! dummy! What if you were a Christian and the gov’t said all communion needed to be served with apple juice because grapes are endangered? Personally, I see no problem with using apple juice. But the government shouldn’t force us to use it!

So I HAD to reply! and I wanted to share it with my readers. Here’s my comment. It’s a bit long, but I the subject motivated me on so many levels. I’ve copied it and reproduced it here (with minor grammatical corrections–I would have done in the original if I could have.)

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Our government has such a shameful record of making sure animals are treated humanely when raised in captivity that any thought of adding to the list of animals farmed should be forever banished from anyone’s list of options.

But if Native American’s use Eagle parts as part of their sacred rituals, they will in no way cause the birds to become extinct. Since we have made our environment less toxic for the animals (mercury poisoning is what really drove the birds to the edge of extinction in the middle of the last century BTW) they have a chance at recovering in the wild.

The hunters who place animals and birds in jeopardy of extinction have no such noble ideas in mind. What they want is a bird to put on their mantle and brag about how much of a hunter they were when they rented the helicopter and flew right alongside of it before aiming in with their high-powered rifle scope and pulled the trigger.

And actually, I like the idea of allowing Native Americans to use traditional weapons to hunt the birds for their own and familial use. Not because I think they endanger the birds, but because they are protected and that would allow for the freedom to use them for religious/sacred purpose without opening the door that first crack to others to hunt them as they wish.

Imitation Eagle FeatherAnd Native Americans who cannot get Eagle parts do use substitutes. They use hawks and other raptors and even geese and ducks. But they are tired of the government telling them what they can and cannot do in respect to their religion.

At least for the most part, they are no longer stolen from their families and communities and stuck in boarding schools where they are forbidden from speaking their native language and from practicing any activity that was in any way related to their religious practices.

Native Americans [deserve] special rights to practice their own religion since they were maliciously forbidden to do so during the attempted genocide of their nations. European invaders basically caused the Native Peoples to become endangered as they worked to push them to the brink of extinction to take over the land and its resources (can you say gold rush?) for several centuries. And now they want to deny the most oppressed and [often] impoverished group of people in our country one of the basic rights guaranteed by the constitution to the people in this country.

No one wants to see the Eagle disappear from our land. But we owe the Native People the honor and respect denied them for so long and they should be allowed to own and acquire the items they need for their sacred rituals in the most respectful and accessible way we can find.

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