The American Indian Religious Freedom Act




The American Indian Act, also known as AIRFA, was passed in 1978 in order to protect the religious freedoms of American Indians. The act pertains to all American Indians, Native Hawaiians, Eskimos, and Aleuts. Prior to the AIRFA, many laws prohibited American Indians to practice their religion freely due to legal bans on peyote and animal protection laws. The AIRFA states that it

"protects and preserves the inherent right of freedom of belief, expression, and exercise of traditional religions...including but not limited to access to sites, use and possession or sacred objects, and the freedom to worship through ceremonials and traditional rites"

After the law was passed, however, the Native Americans were still not entitled to complete religious freedom due to the fact that they were still prohibited to use peyote and that many of their sacred religious sites were still not available to them. In 1994, an ammendment was made to the act which granted American Indians the right to use peyote in their religious practices.

Ammendment to the AIRFA

Today, despite the attempts made to give Native Americans their religious freedom, the AIRFA falls short in providing them complete freedom. Many sacred religious sites are still unavailable to Native Americans, and many of their religious practices, such as the use of tobacco and the growth of long hair, are prohibited in United States prisons. Although the AIRFA and the ammendment to the AIRFA were giant steps in giving American Indians religious freedoms, the Act falls short and more work needs to be done today if the Native Americans will ever be granted complete religious freedom.