United States Court

The United States Forest Service (Forest Service) was engaged in the completion of a paved 75-mile road linking the towns of Orleans and Gasquet in California. The project includes the construction of a road in the Chimney Rock Area, a religious site for the Indians. Due to the commencement of the project, the government received several negative comments. In1977, a committee was formed to study on the feasibility and possible effects of the construction of the road. The Committee report revealed that due to the unique shape of the area, the Chimney Rock has religious significance for the Indian people.

It is being used to undertake several rituals and ceremonies and it is their view that doing the rituals on a different place would not yield to the same effects as in the Chimney Rock. Consequently, the committee recommended the abandonment of the project. Disregarding the findings made by the committee, the Forest Service promulgated an order to continue the project but with certain amendments. The construction was made in such a way that certain religious areas are not affected or altered substantially. Alternative routes and protective areas were also created in consideration of the religious preferences of the Indians.

Due to this decision, an Indian organization, nature organizations and several individuals filed a complaint in court challenging the project. The District Court imposed a permanent injunction prohibiting the continuance of the construction on the ground that it violates the provisions of the First Amendment on the Free Exercise Clause. The appellate court affirmed the decision. The case was brought to the Supreme Court and the court held that there was no violation of the Free Exercise Clause. There is no prohibition in the law on permitting the harvest of timber in Chimney Rock, neither is there a prohibition on the construction project.

The Government has the right to use its own lands based on its needs and should not be discouraged to meet those needs to give way to religious beliefs. The Court also held that substantial considerations were made in order to lessen the negative impact of the project on the beliefs of the Indian religious, thus, I cannot be said that the project is insensitive to Indian religious preferences. Impact on Indian Beliefs The project has a serious religious impact on the Indians as this is the place where they perform most of their rituals and ceremonies. The shape of the place has particular significance to the effectivity of such practices.

It is their firm belief that the desired effect will not be achieved if the ritual is performed in another place. Aside from the effectivity, the presence of paved roads near the area will also lead to more commercial activities and people in the area. The more people there are, the more distractions will there be to the solemnity of the ritual and the concentration of the people involved. Professor Vogel According to Professor Howard Vogel, the case is “representative of a conflict between communities that arise from clashes of cultures between these communities.

” Professor Vogel has a point with this observation as not all communities are bound by a single belief or descend from the same cultural line or lineage. A community is a well rounded place which caters to all types of individuals holding a variety of opinions. A community is a smorgasbord of everything that the world has to offer. Due to the variance in the beliefs, practices, religions and philosophies, there is also a great divide between the way things are prioritized. Some may consider a particular aspect essential while others see nothing but ordinary.

This case clearly exhibits the difference in the hierarchy of values. To the Indians, the Chimney Rock is a sacred place, a site where they could connect with their God and perform their rituals. To the ordinary Americans, this place is nothing but an ordinary forest where timber needs could be supported. Although there is a certain form of respected shown to it by other people, the level of importance and value that they place on the site is not similar as to the Indians. They do not see the real essence of the place and why there some people who want to keep it free from distractions.

If they have the same beliefs and hierarchy of values then it would not be difficult to abandon the project but such is not the case. While most people would desire that their preferences be maintained at all times, this is not the scenario in the real world. Other people can only respect what you believe in but they cannot stop the world in order to accommodate such principles. They may impose certain restrictions but not exactly embrace the preferences that one holds.


United States Court of Appeals. Lyng v. Northwest Indian Cemetery Protective Association. 485 U. S. 439