Lyng v. Northwest Indian Cemetery Protective Association
485 U.S. 439 (1988)
The Forest Service wanted to
pave a dirt road a National Forest in California.
The Forest Service issued a
draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) that outlined several
proposals for road upgrades in the area.
The Forest Service
commissioned a study of America Indian cultural and religious sites in
Members of the Yuork, Karok,
and Tolowa commented on the draft EIS that the entire area was important
for their religious ceremonies, and having a road running through it (with
noise and traffic) would ruin the area.
The Forest Service's study
found that any road, "would cause serious and irreparable damage to
the sacred areas which are an integral and necessary part of the belief
system and lifeway of Northwest California Indian peoples."
The Forest Service decided not
to adopt the recommendation that the entire area be closed off. American
Indian groups (led by the ICPA) sued for an injunction.
ICPA argued that the burden
on their religious practices is heavy enough to violate the Free
Exercise Clause of the 1st
Amendment unless the government could demonstrate a compelling
need to complete the road.
The Trial Court found for ICPA
and issued an injunction. The Forest Service appealed.
The Appellate Court affirmed.
The Forest Service appealed.
The US Supreme Court reversed
and allowed the road to be built.
The US Supreme Court looked
to Bowen v. Roy (476 U.S. 693
(1986)), and found that the Free Exercise Clause affords an
individual protection from certain forms of governmental compulsions, but
it does not afford an individual a right to dictate the conduct of the
Government's internal procedures.
Basically, the government
can't tell you what you should or shouldn't believe, but it is not
required to satisfy every citizen's religious needs and desires.
See also Employment
Division, Department of Health and Human Resources of Oregon v. Smith (497 U.S. 872 (1990)).
After this case was decided,
Congress stepped in and designated the area a "wilderness"
(under the Wilderness Act (16
U.S.C. §§1131-1136)) and the road was