In 1998, BLUMA, represented by the Mountain States Legal Foundation, sued Bruce Babbitt, the United States Secretary of the Interior, bringing the dispute to Federal District Court in Wyoming in order to fight the constitutionality of the voluntary climbing ban. Babbitt was reported to by Deborah Liggett, who worked for the NPS as the superintendent of Devils Tower National Monument. She developed the FCMP over a two year period through discussions with climbers, Native American tribes, and other concerned parties in an attempt to accommodate the interests of all groups.
In 1998 the Federal District Court ruled in favor of the defendants, stating that the FCMP does not violate the Establishment Clause because the FCMP seeks to accommodate, not promote, the tribes' religion. One year later the case was brought to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, which maintained the ruling of the District Court (see the Court Case). BLUMA petitioned the Supreme Court in 2000 to hear the case, but it would not.
The ruling can be seen as inconsistent with Lyng v. Northwest Indian Cemetery Protective Association, which established that the United States Forest Service could build a road (the G-O road) through federal land that was sacred to some Native American tribes because the free exercise clause does not prohibit the government from taking actions that interfere with the ease with which the tribes can practice their religion as long as it does threaten their fundamental ability to do so. In this case, the road would make it harder from them to practice their religion, but not make it impossible. The cases, according to the court, are quite different. Lyng involved what accommodation of Native American religion is required, where as the Devils Tower case considered what type of accommodation is permissible. This difference can be seen in that the plaintiffs claimed the cases were violating different clauses.
The dispute, however, continues to attract a lot of attention even after the court decision, because the issues are fundamental ones, and thus a court ruling does not change people's core beliefs. The dispute reaches a large audience because of the recreational claim to the site. As pictured above, Patagonia has made a shirt with a drawing of Devils Tower and the word "respect" at its base to spread awareness of the issue of protecting sacred sites on federal land. The NPS also had several articles written about the FCMP in top news sources. BLUMA, however, sited these articles as the NPS simply seeking favorable press coverage and rebuking those who choose to climb the tower in June.
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