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Jail time over eagle feathers? One Native American’s religious freedom fight

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Ryan Colby 202-349-7219

May 29, 2015, CNA/EWTN

“This is a particularly egregious case where the federal government sent an undercover agent into a core religious ceremony, confiscated religious property, and criminally prosecuted people simply for practicing their religion,” stated Luke Goodrich, deputy general counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, representing the leader Pastor Soto.

Pastor Soto recently won his case at the Fifth Circuit Court level and got the feathers back. The Department of Justice wants the case dismissed, but Becket Fund says it isn’t over as once Pastor Soto dies the feathers will go back to the federal government instead of staying within his family and the tribe.

They want the religious exception for use of eagle feathers to apply not just to officially-recognized Native American tribes.

On Wednesday, a federal district court judge ruled against both parties. No one in the tribe but Pastor Soto can use the feathers, but the case is still open regarding the wildlife law’s application to Native American tribes.

The Becket Fund will file an injunction for summary judgment in the case, where the judge could rule in their favor without a trial by the end of 2015. If this movement is refused then the case will move to a trial in 2016.

The case is very important for religious liberty of all Americans, not just Native Americans, the Becket Fund argued. If the federal government can raid a religious ceremony and confiscate materials considered sacred by the aggrieved party, what can’t it do, asked Goodrich.