Defend the Sacred: Native American Religious Freedom beyond the First Amendment

The remarkable story of the innovative legal strategies Native Americans have used to protect their religious rights


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Apr 14, 2020
12 b/w illus. 2 maps.
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From North Dakota’s Standing Rock encampments to Arizona’s San Francisco Peaks, Native Americans have repeatedly asserted legal rights to religious freedom to protect their sacred places, practices, objects, knowledge, and ancestral remains. But these claims have met with little success in court because Native American communal traditions don’t fit easily into modern Western definitions of religion. In Defend the Sacred, Michael McNally explores how, in response to this situation, Native peoples have creatively turned to other legal means to safeguard what matters to them.

To articulate their claims, Native peoples have resourcefully used the languages of cultural resources under environmental and historic preservation law; of sovereignty under treaty-based federal Indian law; and, increasingly, of Indigenous rights under international human rights law. Along the way, Native nations still draw on the rhetorical power of religious freedom to gain legislative and regulatory successes beyond the First Amendment.

The story of Native American advocates and their struggle to protect their liberties, Defend the Sacred casts new light on discussions of religious freedom, cultural resource management, and the vitality of Indigenous religions today.

Awards and Recognition

  • Finalist for the Award for Excellence in the Study of Religion, Analytical-Descriptive Studies, American Academy of Religion
  • Finalist for the PROSE Award in Legal Studies and Criminology, Association of American Publishers