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Old 02-23-2005, 01:34 AM   #1
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Supreme Court refuses to hear sacred sites case

Supreme Court refuses to hear sacred sites case
Man complained because he was prevented from trespassing

WASHINGTON DC
Native American Times 2/22/2005

The Supreme Court has refused to hear an appeal of a case that allows the National Park Service to keep visitors away from a mountain range located on Navajo land.

The justices let stand a lower court's dismissal of a lawsuit charging that the policy at the world's largest natural bridge unconstitutionally endorses religion.

Navajos, Hopi and other Indian tribes consider Utah’s Rainbow Bridge a sacred site that should be approached closely only during their traditional religious ceremonies. A prehistoric altar once stood near the arch, but it was destroyed in the 1930s.

The case stemmed from a 1999 incident that saw Earl DeWall visit the Rainbow Bridge National Monument in southern Utah, an area located on the tip of Navajo land and just a few miles from the Arizona border. Since 1995, the U.S. Park Service installed signs at the monument to prevent visitors from walking under or near the arch.

The signs read: “To Native American tribes/nations Rainbow Bridge is a sacred religious site. In respect of these long-standing beliefs, we request your voluntary compliance in not approaching or walking under Rainbow Bridge.”

According to the Mountain States Legal Foundation, a legal organization that supports DeWall’s claim, the Park Service posted the signs in response to protests by the Navajo Tribe that the arch is sacred. The NPS blocked access to the trail leading to the arch and distributed material to ensure that visitors adopt a "respectful attitude" toward the arch.

DeWall apparently did not want to maintain a “respectful attitude.” He walked near the arch and was promptly admonished by a Park Service ranger. The ranger, Paul Nelson, states the following in a deposition: "[DeWall] interrupted my conversation in a loud and boisterous manner by claiming that all of the signs are lies and that 'tree huggers' from the Sierra Club are responsible for the Park Service's way of managing Rainbow Bridge. He suggested that he could go anywhere he wanted in the area and that everything regarding the spirituality of the site is an outright lie. I asked this individual to respect other people's enjoyment of the site, and with that he got louder still and challenged me to prevent him from encroaching into a revegetation area. ... He literally yelled to everyone around him that there was a conspiracy between the Sierra Club, the Park Service and the Indians. He said that three different times."

De Wall sued, claiming that it is a violation of the Constitution to grant special privileges to American Indians.

According to columnist James Kilpatrick, what followed was a maze through the American legal system.

“He and four others sued for an injunction to prevent the Park Service from granting special privileges to Indians by reason of their race, religion or nationality. U.S. District Judge Bruce S. Jenkins dismissed most of the complainants for want of standing, but kept alive DeWaal's individual suit. Then a panel of the 10th Circuit concluded that not even DeWaal had suffered the kind of personal injury that would support a viable claim…he now seeks Supreme Court review,” Kilpatrick wrote.

Kilpatrick, syndicated by United Press International and frequently featured on forums devoted to conservative thought, correctly predicted that the high court would not grant a hearing to DeWall’s petition.

“In April 1999, a different panel of the 10th Circuit looked at similar facts in the case of the Devil's Tower National Monument in Wyoming. The 600-foot butte is a favorite of rock climbers but is holy ground to the Sioux and Arapaho. Speaking through Chief Judge John C. Porfilio, the court held that the climbers had alleged no significant injury and had no standing to sue. The Supreme Court denied a petition for review,” Kilpatrick wrote. “The 10th Circuit made the right call in the Utah case. The special privileges granted to Navajos at Rainbow Bridge take nothing of significance away from palefaces who drive down from Salt Lake City. I see nothing unconstitutional in letting local Indians have free use of the area under the arch. After all, it was their arch in the first place.”

Not everyone agreed. The Jefferson 21st Institute describes itself as “Dedicated to the Separation of Religion and Government.”

“The fact is that [the Park Service] and other federal land management agencies continue to endorse, and compel, religious devotion to American Indian sacred objects, whether Rainbow Bridge in Utah, the Medicine Wheel and Devil's Tower in Wyoming or other sites. The good news in the instant case is that the district court concluded that Mr. DeWall had standing and had shown that he had directly been affected by NPS policy. Heretofore, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals has avoided reaching the serious constitutional issues by finding that litigants lacked standing. This case has the potential of being decided on the merits by the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals and, ultimately if necessary, the United States Supreme Court,” the group asserted on their website in a statement made shortly before DeWall filed for what was to be his unsuccessful bid for a Supreme Court hearing.
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