BJC-led coalition of religious freedom advocates urges Congress to protect religious freedom on Earth Day

by | Apr 22, 2022

The clock is ticking on Chí’chil Biłdagoteel, sacred land located in Arizona’s Tonto National Forest. The land, known in English as “Oak Flat,” is sacred to many Tribes in the Southwest but it is slated to be given by the federal government to the company Resolution Copper for destructive mining practices unless Congress takes action.

In a letter to Congress signed by more than 100 organizations, BJC urged the passage of the Save Oak Flat Act (H.R. 1884/S. 915), which would halt the transfer. Here is an excerpt from their appeal, which emphasizes that a place of worship doesn’t have to be a building, or house lines of pews or stained glass, to be sacred.

The significance of corporate worship for religious Americans became even more apparent during the pandemic. Many houses of worship temporarily adopted new worship practices to help curb the spread of the coronavirus in their communities. Whether the adaptation was a virtual service, outdoor service, or something in person with masks and proper social distancing, everyone eagerly anticipated the day they could go back to normal to resume worship with fellow believers. Unfortunately for tribal members who hold Oak Flat sacred, the separation from their outdoor sanctuary would not be temporary. If the administration and Congress fail to work together to protect Oak Flat, the Western Apache peoples will suffer the permanent closure and total destruction of their sacred site.

The Save Oak Flat Act, which is sponsored by both Democratic and Republican members, would repeal the section of the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act that authorized the conveyance of the land to Resolution Copper for mining, preserving the sacred land from devastation that, as BJC’s letter notes, would create a crater nearly 2 miles wide and 1,100 feet deep.

What can you do to help? Plenty! BJC has created a website dedicated to saving Oak Flat. There you will find 18 ways you can take action to save Oak Flat on Earth Day (or any day!). There is also a sample script to use when contacting your member of Congress to encourage their support for the bill, and the powerful #OakFlatChallenge which asks you to think about how your community would be impacted by a crater 1.8 miles wide and to share about it on social media.

This is an important issue where citizen action could make a big difference in the lives of people who are simply trying to save religious land from corporate destruction. Read the whole letter here to see the entire list of signers, and share it with friends, family, and followers. Take the #OakFlatChallenge. And urge your Senators and member of Congress to pass the Save Oak Flat Act!

Together we can #SaveOakFlat.