Deadline to sign on to amicus briefs to Protect Oak Flat extended

Good news!  There is still time for you to organize congregations, organizations and denominations to express intention to sign onto an amicus, or “friend of the court,” brief supporting Apache Stronghold’s federal legal appeal to protect Oak Flat!  The 9th Circuit Court processes have delayed the approach to the Supreme Court.

There will be new briefs written for the Supreme Court, ones that speak from a religious perspective, an indigenous perspective, and at least one appropriate for non-religious organizations to sign onto.  As an example, here is a brief that was used in the previous filing here.  The briefs that our organization’s names will be on will also focus on the center of Apache Stronghold’s legal strategy: freedom of religion includes indigenous religion! And that precludes destruction of Oak Flat.  Briefs will all specifically argue that the destruction of Oak Flat would be a “substantial burden” on Apache religious exercise.  Now is the time to raise our hands and get on the list.  There will be a check back in with each organization with the specific text of the new brief before signatories are finalized.

How do you sign onto an amicus brief?  If your congregation, conference or organization decides to join a brief, there are two steps.

  1. Let the attorneys of Apache Stronghold at the Becket Fund know: Diana Thomson <dthomson@becketlaw.org>  and Leigh Brown <lbrown@becketlaw.org>.
  2. Please copy Carol Rose at carol@shalommennonite.org so Dismantling the Doctrine of Discovery Coalition’s Oak Flat Committee can follow up and celebrate the fruits of our action together. 

This is an opportunity to support Apache efforts to protect the sacred land of Oak Flat (ChiChil Bildagoteel). It is also an opportunity to follow and learn from Apache leadership. The Apache legal case asks that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) be used for its original purpose: to protect the religious freedom of all people, especially marginalized religious groups.

Sometimes, in the work for justice, we run into messy and imperfect options and opportunities. Sometimes gains made by oppressed groups in the US legal structure serve that community and are also twisted and used for harm. Recently RFRA has more often been used by conservative groups seeking  exceptions from non-discrimination laws. So some of us feel like we are joining some unsavory bedfellows when signing on. However, we are also joining the Apache! Wrongful use of a law needn’t keep us from publicly supporting Indigenous people when they ask for the right use of that law. 

Even though we might prefer to sign onto a brief that enthusiastically centers and honors the wisdom of the land-rooted religions of Indigenous people and the land itself, the Apache legal strategy may sway even the current Supreme Court. Many recent Supreme Court decisions have stood for religious freedom. Apache use of RFRA may back the Supreme Court into a corner. An Apache win in this case would be huge, creating precedent for protecting other indigenous sacred sites and legally recognizing land-based spirituality. 

There is also great danger in precedent if the case were lost. And, as is so often the case in indigenous wisdom that sees beyond the current issue, the Apache strategy seeks to hold their colonizers feet to the fire of what we say this nation stands for. Apache Stronghold leader Wendsler Nosie tells us that if they lose this case, he still sees it as a “win” since that will expose who the RFRA protects – white Christian religious groups. The spiritual bankruptcy and hierarchy at the foundations of the United States would be on full display in a way that might open doors to decolonization for the whole of us. 

Allies do not choose Apache Stronghold’s strategy or lawyers. The Apache have centuries of resistance to oppressive US systems under their belts. We have a lot to learn from them.

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