Manataka American Indian Council



Native American Spirituality Brochure




Legal Rights AND Obligations

In America, citizens are entitled to the free exercise of their religious rights, as guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. It is a fundamental right that cannot be taken away or denied and our laws ensure this.

     Individuals and organizations may put themselves at risk for civil litigation for practicing discrimination on the basis of race or creed or national origin; this may include patterns of discrimination against classes of individuals; with severe civil penalties, fines and/or damages, including punitive awards exceeding actual damages.

     Criminal laws may also apply, including hate crime legislation.

      It is imperative, therefore, that individuals and/or organizations (public and private) that offer public services be aware of their obligations   under law and their responsibilities.   In addition, American Indians are protected in the exercise of their legal rights by  congressional acts, federal regulations and executive orders.

      This is especially pertinent to health care organizations that receive  federal funds which may find themselves in violation and, thereby, be subject to litigation, loss of funding, and civil and criminal penalties; and for individuals acting as their agents, who may put themselves and their organizations/institutions at legal risk.

Ignorance of the law is no excuse for infraction and severe penalties may be incurred through even inadvertent denial of rights. 

Hospitals, home health organizations, health care providers and other institutions that offer public care receiving federal monies should be apprised that under The American Indian Religious Freedom Act, and other specific rules and regulations, that, by act of Congress, Aug. 11, 1978 (U.S. Code, Title 42, Chapter 21, Subchapter I, 1996) it is “the policy of the United States to protect and preserve for American Indians their inherent right of freedom to believe, express, and exercise {their} traditional religions... including but not limited to... use and possession of sacred objects, and the freedom to worship through ceremonials and traditional rites.”

Denial of religious freedom is a serious offense, both in terms of legal liability and civil rights as defined by law and government policy, as well as an affront to common courtesy and human decency that both public and private entities should avoid. When in doubt, it is best as a matter of policy to make accommodation. 




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