Opinion: Tribes, sacred sites and environment
"For a moment there, it looked as if the bitter, decade-long feud over building a "wind farm" in federal waters off Cape Cod was finally over. The plan to put 130 giant wind turbines out on a shoal in Nantucket Sound was never met with the enthusiasm one would expect for such a grand green energy project. Though some environmentalists actually supported the scheme, including Greenpeace and the Sierra Club, the elites of Nantucket, Martha's Vineyard and the Cape have tilted at the windmills, deriding them as "visual pollution." The complaints, feints, objections and lawsuits, the regulatory tangles and legislative brickbats, have succeeded in delaying construction for years.

But after it seemed that the last of the hurdles had been cleared a new objection has suddenly surfaced, putting the wind farm on hold yet again: The local Aquinnah and Mashpee Wampanoag Indian tribes are claiming that the Nantucket Sound is sacred ground. They say that they will no longer be able to practice the religious ritual of greeting the morning sun if distant turbines litter the horizon.

Don't scoff—Native Americans have had some luck with claims that cluttered sightlines violate their religious freedom. Last year, the U.S. Army abandoned construction of a warehouse near the Medicine Bluffs in Oklahoma. The Comanche Nation had sued, saying that the land is sacred. A federal judge decided in its favor, ruling "an unobstructed view of all four bluffs is central to the spiritual experience of the Comanche people." The fiasco cost the Army some $650,000.

The Supreme Court put limits on the sacred-ground gambit in 1988, finding that the Constitution's guarantee of religious freedom does not require cordoning off every acre of land that someone claims to have spiritual significance. Justice Sandra Day O'Connor wrote that even if "government action would interfere significantly with private persons' ability to pursue spiritual fulfillment according to their own religious beliefs," that didn't amount to a prohibition of religion."

Get the Story:
Eric Felten: Save the Planet? Even the Indians Have Reservations (The Wall Street Journal 10/30)