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Gibson v. Babbitt

ELR Citation: 31 ELR 20012
Nos. No. 99-13200, 223 F.3d 1256/(11th Cir., 08/21/2000)

The court holds that the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act (BGEPA), which only allows members of federally recognized Native American tribes to use protected eagle parts for religious purposes, does not violate the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act (RFRA). The court first recognizes that the BGEPA's regulation restricting the religious use exemption to members of a federally recognized tribe constitutes a substantial burden on the applicant's free exercise of his religion. The court holds, however, that the government has met its evidentiary burden of proving that it has a compelling governmental interest in fulfilling its treaty obligations with federally recognized tribes. Moreover, limiting the exemption to members of a federally recognized tribe is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest. Therefore, the BGEPA's membership requirement does not violate the RFRA. The court further holds that, using the same compelling interest test, the membership requirement does not violate the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.

The full text of this opinion is available from ELR (4 pp., ELR Order No. L-258).

Counsel for Plaintiff
David J. Sales
Searcy, Denney, Scarola, Barnhart & Shipley
2139 Palm Beach Lakes Blvd., W. Palm Beach FL 33402
(561) 686-6300

Counsel for Defendants
Janice M. Schneider
Environment and Natural Resources Division
U.S. Department of Justice, Washington DC 20530
(202) 514-2000

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