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Coalition of interfaith leaders encourage Biden Administration to protect Native American religious liberties

by Premier Journalist

A coalition of 60 religious organizations has written a public statement to President Joe Biden, requesting that he intervene in a land swap that could destroy a Native American sanctuary. 

In 2014, the Bureau of Land Management submitted a deal that would allow Resolution Copper, a mining company in Arizona, to acquire Oak Flat. This sanctuary site holds several important relics and historical importance for several Native American tribes in the region. The area in question has been desired by Resolution Copper for several years, in part due to an enormous amount of minerals lingering beneath the surface. At this time, Resolution Copper has permission to begin underground mining beneath the site. However, religious communities are concerned about the long-term effects of such a choice. 

This coalition about the land swap has released several public statements. The latest, focuses on the effects of such a policy upon the religious freedoms of the local Native American community. 

In a statement released on June 20, 2021, the coalition argues that "In addition to its significant adverse impact on the environment, permitting mining under Oak Flat will permanently destroy this sacred sanctuary and be a loss for religious freedom." Oak Flat was "added to the National Register of Historic Places as a Traditional Cultural Property because for centuries it has been the site of religious and cultural ceremonies, a burial ground, and a place for tribal members to find medicinal plants, food, and water." Oak Flat is an integral part of the local community.

The letter even compares its relevance to Jerusalem for the Native Americans there. "Just as the Abrahamic faiths hold various parts of Jerusalem as sacred because of unique encounters with G-d, the Apache believe Oak Flat is sacred because it is one place where prayers can go directly to the Creator who gave life to all things."

The statement was signed by various religious and religious-liberty-focused organizations, including the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, PCUSA Washington Office of Public Witness, the ACLU, and the U.S. Catholic Bishops Committee for Religious Liberty.

Resolution Copper claims that their mining would not affect the public's access to their religious sites. However, they were unwilling to guarantee that in perpetuity. 

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