A story at upi.com reports on a change in federal policy that would expand protection of individuals who use eagle feathers as part of their Native American practice. The change is driven, in part, by a petition filed by Robert Soto, a Grace Brethren pastor in South Texas. (He is pastor of the McAllen, Tex., Grace Brethren Church.) A portion of the story appears below. Click here to read the complete article.
U.S. may allow more Native Americans religious use of eagle feathers
After a years-long battle, the federal government is considering expanding protection from criminal prosecution to all “sincere religious believers” who use eagle feathers in observance of their Native American faith.
Currently, only members of the 573 federally recognized tribes — who number about 1.9 million, according to the Bureau of Indian Affairs — are covered by a Department of Justice policy that advises against prosecuting them for possessing the feathers for religious use.
The proposed expansion would cover Native Americans who are not enrolled in any tribe and the about 200,000 members of state-recognized tribes, as well as other believers, according to Joe Davis, an attorney with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. …
Becket, a nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C., represents Robert Soto, a feather dancer and religious leader in the Lipan Apache Tribe of Texas. Soto filed a petition a year ago with the Fish and Wildlife Service, a bureau of the U.S. Department of the Interior, seeking the change.
“Native Americans have worshiped with feathers since time immemorial,” the petition says. “For many, denying them access to feathers is like denying a Christian the use of a Bible, rosary, or holy water, or forbidding Orthodox Jews from using a Torah scroll in worship.”
Soto, who serves as pastor at McAllen Grace Brethren Church in southern Texas and as vice chairman of his tribe, has been a feather dancer for nearly half a century. In 2006, an undercover federal agent raided his powwow, a traditional religious ceremony, and seized 42 sacred feathers.
Click here to read the complete article.