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The Bald Eagle–free Exercise Dilemma

The Associated Press reports that a three-judge panel of the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled unanimously yesterday that Winslow Friday, a member of the Northern Arapaho tribe in Wyoming, will have to stand trial for shooting and killing a bald eagle for use in a tribal ritual:

The appeals court ruled that American Indians' religious freedoms are not violated by federal law protecting eagles or the government's policy requiring American Indians to get permits to kill the birds.

"Law accommodates religion," the court said in its ruling. "It cannot wholly exempt religion from the reach of the law." ...

The appeals court ... also rejected Friday's argument that the federal Religious Freedom Restitution Act, which prohibits the government from placing undue burdens on religious practices, should block the federal government from prosecuting him for killing the eagle.

The full ruling from the Tenth Circuit is here (pdf), written by widely respected First Amendment scholar Michael McConnell.

--Josh Patashnik