Individual Religious Freedoms in American Indian Tribal Constitutional Law

Kristen A. Carpenter

University of Colorado Law School

July 1, 2011

The Indian Civil Rights Act at Forty (American Indian Studies Center Publications), 2012

Written on the 40th Anniversary of the Indian Civil Rights Act, this article engages with a prominent critique of individual rights in tribal communities, namely that they effectuate the 'assimilation' of tribal people, values, and institutions. On the one hand, because American Indian religions emphasize collective values and experiences, this critique is particularly apt in the religion context, and the imposition of individual rights norms recalls the federal government's historic efforts to destroy tribes by eradicating tribal religious practices. Moreover, in many tribal communities, religion is conceptualized and practiced not in terms of 'rights' but rather 'duties' to other people, plants, animals, natural features, and the ceremonies themselves. On the other hand, some Indian tribes have historically recognized personal liberties in spiritual practices, and now consider it an obligation of self-government to protect individual interests in religion. This article explores these themes, particularly as they manifest in tribal constitutional law, which reveals a broad spectrum of rights and duties, individual and collective protections. The article also elaborates on several ways that tribes recognize individual rights in the context of tribal culture, namely using tribal custom as a basis for interpreting positive law on individual religious rights, maintaining separate institutions for the resolution of legal disputes about religion, and engaging in constitutional reform to change religious rights provisions that are inconsistent with tribal values. In the final analysis, the article observes that that while many challenges remain, tribal governments often try to facilitate individual and collective interests in religious freedom today.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 50

Keywords: religion, First Amendment, free exercise, establishment, American Indian law, tribal law, constitutional law

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Date posted: March 4, 2012 ; Last revised: March 6, 2012

Suggested Citation

Carpenter, Kristen A., Individual Religious Freedoms in American Indian Tribal Constitutional Law (July 1, 2011). The Indian Civil Rights Act at Forty (American Indian Studies Center Publications), 2012. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2015796

Contact Information

Kristen A. Carpenter (Contact Author)
University of Colorado Law School ( email )
Wolf Law Building, 401 UCB
Boulder, CO 80309
United States
(303) 492-6526 (Phone)
HOME PAGE: http://lawweb.colorado.edu/profiles/profile.jsp?id=368

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