US federal appeals court rules copper mining project did not violate Apache American Indians’ religious rights
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US federal appeals court rules copper mining project did not violate Apache American Indians’ religious rights

The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit Friday ruled that a copper mining project did not violate local Apache American Indians’ First Amendment religious rights.

A 2014 Congress act requires the US secretary of agriculture to give mining company Rio Tinto land called Oak Flat, which is to Apache American Indians a sacred site. In the land exchange, the company will give the US government nearby land plots. As a result of Oak Flat being conveyed to Rio Tinto, Apache Stronghold, a nonprofit organization, sued the government for allegedly having violated “the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the Free Exercise Clause of the Constitution’s First Amendment, and a trust obligation imposed” on the US because of the 1852 Treaty of Santa Fe between the US and the Apache.

The court stated that the US government “makes exercises of religion more difficult all the time,” including the land exchange causing worship “impossible” on Oak Flat. Additionally, the Apache are not pressured by the land exchange to relinquish their religion through a negative outcome threat. Overall, the court found that the allegedly violated rights did not afford Apache Stronghold the relief it sought through this lawsuit.

In her dissent, Judge Marsha Berzon used the words “absurd,” “illogical,” “disingenuous,” and “incoheren[t]” to describe the decision.

Resolution Copper, Rio Tinto’s copper mine project, responded to the ruling by stating that it had undergone:

a rigorous, independent review under the National Environmental Policy Act, which has included extensive consultation with the numerous Native American Tribes that have ancestral ties to this land, local communities, civil society organizations and a dozen federal, state, and county agencies.

In a press release, Apache Stronghold vowed to appeal the Ninth Circuit’s decision immediately to the US Supreme Court.