American Indian Religious Freedom Act Of 1978

2873 words - 11 pages

"Some people want the medicine man and woman to share their religious belief in the same manner that priests, rabbis, and ministers expound publicly the tenets of their denominations; others feel that Indian ceremonials are remnants of primitive life and should be abandoned." - Vine Deloria (NARF article)Religious freedom is an autonomy that most people living in the present take for granted. For most it is a right that they have never had to question. For example, if a westerner wants to practice Catholicism, study the "Koran", or even master the art of Zen Buddhism he or she is free to do so without suffering any consequences. This is not true for the American Indian. Religious freedom has become more of a gift given to the Indians from the United States government rather than a birthright. In the last two hundred years, the white mans' desire to assimilate the Indian in to their own culture by refining them through religious persecution can be well noted from the times of the early Spanish settlements all the way through the arrival of the French, English, and ultimately the colonization of the Americans. All four above mentioned groups, with their own religious beliefs, felt that to educate the Indians upon their "God" was an equitable rationalization for taking Indian land, leading to the absorption of the American Indian into the dominating cultures which surrounded them. As a result of the paternalistic attitudes brought with the European colonizers, the American Indian religions were forced by law into partial extinction. The American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978 (A.I.R.F.A.) was created to protect the religious rights of American Indians living under the oppression of western society.For Indians, religious freedom can be seen as their life-blood. It is not a practice seen as a duty they must fulfill to be granted passage into a "heaven" by congregating into a sacred church on Sunday. Religion is their way of life and without it they loose their heritage and ultimately their true identity as a unique and individualistic culture. The United States historical suppression upon the traditional "pagan" religious ways of the American Indian can be traced back all the way to the arrival of Columbus in 1492. Although the immigrants came to this land in search of religious freedom and base their nation upon it, they were reluctant to see the hypocrisy of their own actions. One need look no further than the Constitution itself to find this to be true.Within the First Amendment of the United States Constitution it clearly states that, "Congress shall make no laws respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," and should have ruled out the need for the American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978 (Vecsey 28). At the end of the 1800's, government representatives promulgated policies that would deteriorate indigenous religions. In 1882 Interior Secretary Henry M. Teller demanded the end of all ceremonial...

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