When does a protest become an act of religious expression? For many Indigenous environmental activists, protest in itself is a spiritual act – they see themselves as protectors of sacred land. Demonstrations, such as a recent gathering against the building of a pipeline on traditional Ojibwe land in northern Minnesota, incorporate prayer and rituals to sanctify natural places, such as land and rivers.

This is important when looking at the wave of anti-protest laws put in place by more than 30 states in recent years, environment studies professor Rosalyn LaPier argues. With increased jail time and punitive fines for activists engaged in civil disobedience, such legislation has “the potential to infringe on the First Amendment right of religious freedom…because Indigenous protests often transform places of protest into places of religious practice and even pilgrimage.”

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Matt Williams

Religion & Ethics Editor

More than 30 U.S. states have passed laws intended to stop protests like the one against the Line 3 pipeline. Kerem Yucel/AFP via Getty Images

New wave of anti-protest laws may infringe on religious freedoms for Indigenous people

Rosalyn R. LaPier, The University of Montana

Native Americans have long struggled to practice their spiritual rituals and protect their landscapes. Crackdowns on Indigenous protests could further erode the free exercise of their religions.

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