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U.S. Returns Eagle Feathers to Lipan Apache Religious Leader After Court Fight

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Ryan Colby 202-349-7219

Indian Country Today Media Network, March 10, 2015

“The government has about a million better things to do with taxpayer money than send undercover agents to raid Native American powwows and confiscate their eagle feathers,” said Luke Goodrich, Deputy General Counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, in a statement.

In 2006, federal agents infiltrated and interrupted a powwow to confiscate the feathers from Soto as he participated in full regalia.The court victory was only partial, said the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which describes itself as a “non-profit, public-interest legal and educational institute with a mission to protect the free expression of all faiths” on its website. While Soto and his tribe were deemed eligible to possess the feathers, federal law still prohibits them from using the items in religious ceremonies, leaving open the possibility of prosecution on other fronts, the Becket Fund said.The Religious Freedom of Restoration Act notoriously served last July as the basis for a U.S. Supreme Court decision in favor of the Hobby Lobby craft store in its bid to opt out of covering contraception because of its owners’ belief that conception begins at birth—a case that the Becket Fund also defended.

Goodrich implied there was hypocrisy in the U.S. government’s tacit permission for eagles to be killed for a host of reasons, while drawing the line at mere possession for American Indians.“The government allows hundreds of eagles, if not thousands, to be killed every year for non-religious reasons. Yet it won’t allow these Native Americans to possess even a single feather,” said Goodrich. “It’s time to let Native Americans practice their faith; we’re not living in the 1800s anymore.”