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 the area.
  • 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 not built.