Defend the Sacred

Native American Religious Freedom beyond the First Amendment

Reddit icon
e-mail icon
Twitter icon
Facebook icon
Google icon
LinkedIn icon
Michael D. McNally
  • Princeton, NJ: 
    Princeton University Press
    , April
     400 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


From North Dakota’s Standing Rock encampments to Arizona’s San Francisco Peaks, Native Americans have repeatedly asserted legal rights to religious freedom to protect their sacred places, practices, objects, knowledge, and ancestral remains. But these claims have met with little success in court because Native American communal traditions don’t fit easily into modern Western definitions of religion. In Defend the Sacred, Michael McNally explores how, in response to this situation, Native peoples have creatively turned to other legal means to safeguard what matters to them.

To articulate their claims, Native peoples have resourcefully used the languages of cultural resources under environmental and historic preservation law; of sovereignty under treaty-based federal Indian law; and, increasingly, of Indigenous rights under international human rights law. Along the way, Native nations still draw on the rhetorical power of religious freedom to gain legislative and regulatory successes beyond the First Amendment.

The story of Native American advocates and their struggle to protect their liberties, Defend the Sacred casts new light on discussions of religious freedom, cultural resource management, and the vitality of Indigenous religions today.

About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Michael D. McNally is the John M. and Elizabeth W. Musser Professor of Religious Studies at Carleton College. He is the author of Honoring Elders: Aging, Authority, and Ojibwe Religion and Ojibwe Singers: Hymns, Grief, and a Native Culture in Motion.


Reading Religion welcomes comments from AAR members, and you may leave a comment below by logging in with your AAR Member ID and password. Please read our policy on commenting.