By Associated Press, 8/6/2002 06:43
DENVER (AP) The government must return eagle feathers to a descendant of American Indians so he can use them in religious practices, a federal appeals court ruled.
In a case that weighed freedom of religion against the government’s ability to protect bald and golden eagles, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday upheld a lower court’s ruling that the seizure of the feathers violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Prosecutors had appealed the ruling in the case of Joseluis Saenz, one of three people who had asked a federal appeals court to allow them to use eagle feathers in their religious practices, even though they are not members of federally recognized American Indian tribes.
Saenz is a New Mexico resident and descendant of the Chiricahua Apaches, a tribe that is no longer recognized by the government. The other two cases involve Utah residents Raymond Hardman and Samuel Ray Wilgus, who are not American Indians but who still want to use the feathers for religious purposes.
Government attorneys have said the demand for eagle feathers exceeds the government’s supply in a repository in the Denver area.