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Lyng v. Northwest Indian Cemetery Protective Association

United States Supreme Court
485 U.S. 439 (1988)


The United States Forest Service (Forest Service) (defendant) approved a project to build a 75-mile road between two towns in California, which required upgrading 49 miles of unpaved roads on federally owned land. To complete the project, the Forest Service needed to pave certain parts of land in the Six Rivers National Forest (the forest), which was used as a religious site for certain American Indian tribes (plaintiffs). The Forest Service commissioned a study of the area and determined that building the paved segments would interfere with the Indian tribes’ religious practice and cause significant damage to sacred areas in the forest. Nonetheless, the Forest Service decided to complete the project by selecting areas for paving the road that would avoid construction on religious sites and be the least disruptive to the tribes’ religious practice. The Forest Service refused to use alternative land to build a different route to finish the road, which would have required purchasing private land or using potentially unstable land. Additionally, the Forest Service authorized the harvesting of timber in the forest, with protective zones near the identified religious sites. The plaintiffs sued the Forest Service to prevent the completion of the proposed road and the authorization of the timber harvesting. The district court issued an injunction against the Forest Service. The court of appeals upheld the injunction, and the Forest Service appealed to the United States Supreme Court.

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning (O’Connor, J.)

Dissent (Brennan, J.)

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