The Supreme Court decision in Lyng v. Northwest Indian Cemetery Protective Association was unexpectedly bad, even given the court’s less-than-great track record with cases involving Indians and tribes. The written decision stated that the building of the road, and thus the destruction of the Indian High Ground, was not a violation of the Free Exercise Clause because, according to the article, “federal programs ‘which may make it more difficult to practice certain religions’ are non-actionable unless they either ‘coerce’ an individual ‘into violating his religious beliefs or penalize religious activity by denying any person an equal share of the rights, benefits and privileges enjoyed by other citizens’”. While Justice O'Connor believed these new restrictions on the Free Exercise Clause nullified NICPA’s claim, to me it seems that they are strong justification for its validity. The Supreme Court decided, first, that this road was not any form of coercion for an individual to violate his religious beliefs. However, what the Supreme Court is ignorant of, or what it is choosing to blatantly ignore, is that the destruction of sacred religious Indian land is a forced coercion in that it would have prevented the Yurok, Karuk and Tolowa Indians from practicing an invaluable part of their religion. The second part of the court’s justification, that this would have been special treatment for Indian tribes by allowing them benefits and privileges enjoyed by other citizens, is also simply incorrect. The federal government would never demolish a sacred cathedral to build a road, and there would be outrage if, for example, every synagogue was turned into office space and Jews had nowhere to worship. According to the Supreme Court, this would not be a violation of the Free Exercise clause, but it seems that this distinction is only being made when religious practices like those of the Yurok, Karuk and Tolowa Indians are in question.
The Challenging the Narrative of Conquest article, while touching upon many of these points, ended in a way that seemed very bizarre to me—although the authors discussed the destructive legacy of the Lyng decision, they also seemed to believe that the act passed post-decision that kept the road from being built remedied the whole situation. The article states, of the building of the road, that it was a close call, but “id didn’t happen. Despite all the government’s best efforts, the sacred sites were not destroyed and the tribal cultures were not demolished.” They go on to talk about the resiliency of American Indians’ cultures in a way that implies that the government would not be able to cause irreparable damage to Indian religious freedoms and property rights, which it seems to me is entirely untrue. While in this one case the Yurok, Karuk and Tolowa tribes won a victory, this case was one of many that showed how powerful the harmful decisions made by the Supreme Court can be. Although this particular land was spared, the article states that the precedent created by this case has led to harmful decisions made by lower courts in regards to sacred Indian land. The authors of this article believe that “the case stands as a powerful testament to Indian Cultural Survival against great odds,” which may very well be true. However, it also shows the importance that the United States government creates and enforces informed and fair legislation, and the negative implications when it does not.