In many instances, the Federal officials responsible for the enforcement of these regulations were unaware of the nature of traditional native religious practices and, consequently, of the degree to which their agencies interfered with such practices.
Section 2 of the AIRFA directs federal agencies to consult with American Indian spiritual leaders to determine appropriate procedures to protect the inherent rights of American Indians, as laid out it the act.
Alfred Smith, a Native American who had been born on the Klamath Reservation in Oregon, was fired from his job at an agency in Roseburg, Oregon that helped develop services for Native American clientele. was also fired from the agency for the same reason.
His termination was based on his attendance at ceremonies of the Native American Church, which uses peyote as a sacrament. When denied unemployment compensation, Smith and his co-worker challenged the grounds of their terminations. Supreme Court reviewed the case, and overturned the Oregon court ruling.
This study was completed in April 1979 and was titled Cultural Resources of the Chimney Rock Section, Gasquet-Orleans Road, Six Rivers National Forest and was written by Dr. The report traced the long history of this site as sacred to succeeding cultures of indigenous peoples, whose connection could be documented from prehistory.
The report stated that the only appropriate management of such land should be its preservation in a natural state.
Whereas the freedom of religion for all people is an inherent right, fundamental to the democratic structure of the United States and is guaranteed by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution; Whereas the United States has traditionally rejected the concept of a government denying individuals the right to practice their religion, and as a result, has benefited from a rich variety of religious heritages in this country; Whereas the religious practices of the American Indian (as well as Native Alaskan and Hawaiian) are an integral part of their culture, tradition, and heritage, such practices forming the basis of Indian identity and value systems; Whereas the traditional American Indian religions as an integral part of Indian life, are indispensable and irreplaceable; Whereas the lack of a clear, comprehensive, and consistent Federal policy has often resulted in the abridgment of religious freedom for traditional American Indians; Whereas such religious infringements result from the lack of knowledge of the insensitive and inflexible enforcement of Federal policies and regulations premised on a variety of laws; Whereas such laws were designed for such worthwhile purposes as conservation and preservation of natural species and resources but were never intended to relate to Indian religious practices and, there, were passed without consideration of their effect on traditional American Indian religions; Whereas such laws and policies often deny American Indians access to sacred sites required in their religions, including cemeteries; Whereas such laws at times prohibit the use and possession of sacred objects necessary to the exercise of religious rites and ceremonies; Whereas traditional American Indian ceremonies have been intruded upon, interfered with, and in a few instances banned; Now, therefore, be it Resolved by the Senate and the House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress Assembled, That henceforth it shall be the policy of the United States to protect and preserve for American Indians their inherent right of freedom to believe, express, and exercise the traditional religions of the American Indian, Eskimo, Aleut, and Native Hawaiians, including but not limited to access to sites, use and possession of sacred objects, and the freedom to worship through ceremonials and traditional rites. Twelve months after approval of this resolution, the President shall report back to Congress the results of his evaluation, including any changes which were made in administrative policies and procedures, and any recommendations he may have for legislative action. Native American tribes had traditionally been closely associated with their lands, and their religious practices and beliefs were based in specific geographic areas. Northwest Indian Cemetery Protective Association (1988) is a landmark case in the Supreme Court's decisions affecting Native American religion under the AIRFA.
Many Tribes, including the Laguna Indians, many of whom accepted Christianity some 400 years ago, have the custom of a dance on Christmas Eve or Christmas, where gifts are offered at the Manger.
There are many representations of gifts brought to braves in the fields by the great Thunderbird; or scenes with the wise men being replaced by the chiefs representing the great Nations.
Because it is a restricted substance under drug laws, Smith was fired for his use of it. Smith took his case to the Oregon courts, which ruled in his favor of protected use of peyote under the free-exercise clause of AIRFA. The Smith decision prompted the development of the Native American Religious Freedom Project which involved and concerned almost every Native American tribe in the country.
In 1993 the Religious Freedom Restoration Act was passed, and by 1994 the American Indian Religious Freedom Act Amendments were passed as Public Law 103-344.
The bureaucratic decisions to alter land sites implemented by the Court on this case, constitute invasions of tribal self-understanding.