Anna Sonju has posted “Free Exercise Claims Over Indigenous Sacred Sites: Justice Long Overdue,” forthcoming in the Virginia Law Review, on SSRN. Here is the abstract:
This Note argues for a change in the Supreme Court’s treatment of free exercise claims over Indigenous sacred sites. First, this Note reasons that, in Lyng v. Northwest Indian Cemetery Protective Association, the Court set an impossibly high standard for parties bringing sacred site free exercise claims against the government. This insurmountable standard, masking itself as strict scrutiny, implicitly precludes any claimant from prevailing against a government action designated for a sacred site. Further, statutes aimed at protecting religious liberty have resolved little, leaving no choice but to rework the standard.
Next, this Note delves into three pre-existing theories from like-minded critics of Lyng, analyzing the pros and cons of their proposed approaches to sacred site free exercise claims. Lastly, this Note sets forth a novel test which modifies the framework courts currently use in free exercise jurisprudence. Appreciating the fundamental distinctions between religious land and religious acts, this new test is uniquely tailored to address claims over sacred lands. This proposed test seeks to (1) give religious claimants a realistic opportunity to meet their initial burden in court, (2) put sacred site claims on equal footing with other free exercise claims, and (3) address the Supreme Court’s concerns with overexpanding free exercise doctrine.