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Timeline / Renewing Native Ways / 1978: American Indian freedom of religion legalized

1978: American Indian freedom of religion legalized

The American Indian Religious Freedom Act legalizes traditional spirituality and ceremonies, overturning local and state regulations still on the books banning American Indian spiritual practices. American Indians are the only Americans whose religious practice is covered by a law other than the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

“During the 1970s Congress investigated allegations that Indian religious practices were being severely disrupted, often unintentionally, by state and federal laws and by the actions of government officials. The House of Representatives issued a report that substantiated these claims. The report found that Indians were often prevented from visiting their sacred sites, denied the use of religious sacraments, and kept from performing services in their traditional manner. The report recommended that Congress take measures to protect Indian religious practices from unnecessary government interference. In 1978 Congress passed a joint resolution to this effect, the American Indian Religious Freedom Act (AIRFA). The act, as with all joint resolutions, contains no penalty provision that can be enforced against violators. However, AIRFA declares a policy that Congress has pledged to pursue… Sadly, AIRFA has not been very effective due to the absence of a penalty provision.” —Stephen L. Pevar, The Rights of Indians and Tribes: The Basic ACLU Guide to Indian and Tribal Rights, 1992

Federal-Tribal Relations, Native Rights
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