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Old Ground and New Directions at Sacred Sites on the Western Landscape

23 Pages Posted: 13 Dec 2006  

Kristen A. Carpenter

Independent; University of Colorado Law School


The federal public lands contain places with both religious and secular value for American people. American Indians, in particular, hold certain natural features to be sacred, and visit them for ceremonies and worship. Simultaneously, non-Indians use the same places for economic, recreation, and many other purposes - and conflicts arise between these groups. In the past twenty years, a body of constitutional jurisprudence has developed to address questions of religious freedoms and public access rights on these lands that are owned and managed by the federal government. This article outlines the relevant First Amendment framework as well as recent statutes that apply in sacred sites cases. Acknowledging that the law fails to satisfy parties on all sides of the dispute, it also suggests new directions for scholarship and advocacy in the sacred sites realm.

Keywords: Indian law, religious freedoms, First Amendment, RFRA, RLUIPA, sacred sites, property, public lands

Suggested Citation

Carpenter, Kristen A., Old Ground and New Directions at Sacred Sites on the Western Landscape. Denver University Law Review, Vol. 83, p. 981, 2006; University of Denver Legal Studies Research Paper No. 07-03. Available at SSRN:

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