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Mere Damaged Spiritual Feelings

"...[T]he diminishment of spiritual fulfillment – serious though it may be – is not a 'substantial burden' on the free exercise of religion." (9th Circuit Court of Appeals)

What do you suppose the reaction would be if someone wanted to pour treated sewage onto the steps of a Catholic church, a Protestant mega-church, or a consecrated cemetery? Outrage, perhaps?

Well, but those actions would be offensive to actual spiritual beliefs of, um, you know, like, actual religions. As opposed to spraying treated sewage onto a mountainside sacred to Native Americans. That, by contrast, results only in "mere 'damaged spiritual feelings.'" It's like, not the same, dude.

I am just so angry about this.

I don't ordinarily get too bent out of shape by the jostling and shoving that often results from our attempts, as a society, to find a way to live with creating a truly pluralistic society. Wish me a Merry Christmas or a Happy Kwanzaa, even in August, and I just wish the same back at you. But this kind of transparent rationalizing over religion, pretending that a legal decision is being based on constitutional considerations when, in fact, it's simply privileging the dominant religions (and money, oh, most especially money) in this country at the expense of the minority and earth-based religions gets me quite hot and bothered.

Go. Read about it for yourself--either at The Wild Hunt, where I first found it, at the Save the Peaks Coalition page on the decision, or (for the truly strong of stomach) download and read the 9th Circuit decision for yourself.

Apparently, when it's sprayed on some people's sacred spaces, shit don't stink.


Anonymous said…
Maybe the feeling is that until now, whites who came to this continent have been too darned overly accomodating and sensitive to the indigenous cultures and we just have to draw the line somewhere...
Anonymous said…
Or, perhaps, that if we gave in to them on this one issue, that would set a precedent which would require us to give in on a whole lot of other things we're even less prepared to give.
Yewtree said…
I sincerely hope that Paul Maurice Martin is being ironic. If breaking all the land treaties and driving people into marginal land and deliberately giving them diseases is "too darned overly accommodating and sensitive", I'd hate to see what brute force looks like.
Anonymous said…
Why do you attempt to frame this as an Indigenous Religion vs Christianity story?

It is a story of Faith vs Capitalism if anything.
Anonymous said…
"Why do you attempt to frame this as an Indigenous Religion vs Christianity story?

It is a story of Faith vs Capitalism if anything."

It hasn't been framed as Christianity vs Indigenous Religion; it's been framed as the trampling of religious sensitivities by a culture that never has to question its own privilege, and doesn't question its own assumptions about what makes a religion "real", rather than just a set of superstitions.
Thank you, Karen.

I'm sorry if, in my indignation, I implied that all Christians see all indigenous or Pagan religions as "less than." Particularly when I am among Quakers, I know that that is not the case. However, there is a kind of monotheist privilege which is essentially invisible to a good many Christians, but very few Pagan or other earth-centered religious people.

Because I am entering my fifth year of teaching, and I have limited contract protection in my teaching position, I may request my religious holidays off from work this year. Though my career may still be adversely affected by my doing so, I at least will not be quietly let go due to my religious beliefs. (Yes, doing so would be unconstitutional... if proven. Which is why I would not attempt such a thing until I had contract protection.)

It's a different world, that's all. And it doesn't take getting smacked for our differences many times before some of us get a little touchy about the unseen, unacknowledged monotheist assumptions our culture runs under.

Yes, materialism does tend to trump even Christian hegemony in America. And it is entirely possible to be Christian and sensitive and aware of other faiths and other beliefs as legitimate. What's more, as a white, educated, middle-class woman, I have buckets and buckets of unearned and unexamined privilege of my own... quite true.

But it still galls when what is sacred to one of us is discounted and dismissed simply because it does not look like what "sacred" means in the dominant culture.
Idris said…
This lack - whether deliberate or not- of concern for other peoples' spiritual/religious practice and beliefs reminds me about an incident in Bristol only 15 years ago when the police interrupted the proceedings in a Sikh temple in order to instruct the attenders to move their cars. I cannot imagine this happening in the local churches nor even in the synagogues. An apology was given, however.

of course, on the scale of insult and arrogance the story you comment on is leagues ahead. the mindset is, however, the same

Your anger is justified
Anonymous said…
Cat, if no one else has pointed you to it, there's an interview with the "Navajo Nation's lead attorney" in the case at

In the link to the page there's a quote from Northern Arizona University Professor Miguel Vasquez who remarks that the argument that only a part of the Peaks are affected by the planned spraying of up to 1.5 million gallons a day of effluent for snowmaking as "equivalent to saying it's OK to piss in St. Peter's as long as you only do it in one corner."

That pretty much sums up my feelings on the subject. Go well and blesséd be.

Sir Francis
Thanks, Sir Francis.

For those who might want a click through to the link mentioned, here it is.
Anonymous said…
I think I understand the spiritual/religious objections to making snow from wastewater.

But we all of us exist on a planet, in a cluster of societies, that depend on recycling (natural processes or technological processes). I don't think that we can forego recycling because recycling impinges on spiritual/religious concepts of cleanness or purity,

Creatures, including people, shit in the woods, on the mountains. Herds of large animals leave plenty of waste behind.

Having said this, I'm not sure that the courts should diminish spiritual fulfillment as this decision appears to. It ignores notions of crafty stewardship and rooted responsibilities to the Land.

Hey, Pitch,
You write, "I don't think that we can forego recycling because recycling impinges on spiritual/religious concepts of cleanness or purity."

If what were at stake were the recycling of wastewater, I might agree with you. But that's not the good the court is protecting here over the right of several Native American tribes to protect their sacred mountain. Rather, it's the right of a for-profit corporation to make artificial snow with waste water, not for the purposes of cleaning the environment, but for encouraging participation in a sport which benefits few, profits still fewer, and is itself responsible for massive amounts of energy consumption.

So the environmental impact as well as the spiritual impact is also negative. (There may have been flaws in the environmental study done which OK'd the use of wastewater for this purpose to begin with, but that legal horse left the barn some time ago, as I understand it.)

I think perhaps I am so appalled by this decision because I watched my own sacred mountain--an unimportant little New England hillside--be commodified, too. Earth values weigh so little balanced against corporate profits...
Anonymous said…
In reading about this issue, having lived in Flagstaff, my first thought is of the incredible desecration of the peaks that's already happened to create the Arizona Snow Bowl--while the creation of ski slopes always involves deforestation--one reason I don't down-hill ski--in most places, long, rolling meadows are created, full of grass and wildflowers after the snow melts. Such is not the case here--instead, there is a gigantic rocky wasteland.

To be honest with you, I think that there is way too much respect for religion in our society--all my life I've been told to respect the beliefs of Christian fundamentalists who condemn me to eternal damnation for failing to share their beliefs and would deny all rights to my gay brother and friends. Well, I don't respect one bit of it and it makes me sick that these superstitious idiots have so much power in American society. Unfashionable as it is to say so in progressive circles, I have absolutely no respect for Islamic ideas about women or offenses to Mohammed or the Koran. Why is it that nobody expects me to respect some drunk asshole who insults women and gays, but if some sober bigot starts quoting his holy book to the same effect, I'm supposed to genuflect to his deeply held faith? I also think there's something absurd about the way the government has decided that the psychedelic experiences that members of the Native American Church have on peyote are valid, while those who have such experiences outside of that institution are still considered simply druggies and criminals.

Thus, I'd like to see the Arizona
Snowbowl closed completely, and the mountain restored, and all wasteful uses of water--such as snowmaking--outlawed, but for ecological reasons, not because I think religious beliefs deserve any more respect than they get.

Admittedly, if we're going to continue to have to choose between presidential candidates who have to pass a loving-Jesus litmus test, it might seem only fair for society to genuflect to Native American religions as well, particularly considering the criminal lack of respect given to the holders of those beliefs historically and now, but I'd rather live in a society where someone's belief in ancient myths, whatever they might be, is not given such special status.

Interesting blog you've got here by the way (guess it should be obvious that I find it though provoking).
Anonymous said…
wow,i,knew there were some withis these thofghts but wow can io say the comments say it al.

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