American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978
Until the passing of the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, it was illegal under U.S. law for Native American spiritual leaders to practice their spiritual or religious traditions. This act, passed after centuries of oppressive policies toward Native Americans, was the result of long resistance from Native American groups and spiritual leaders who struggled to assert themselves and their cultural strengths by calling for a return to traditional practices and beliefs and by directly objecting to the infringement on their rights. The act allowed Native Americans access to their religious sites and sacred objects and tools, as well as the freedom to participate in their religious ceremonies and rites. Challenges to these practices continue, however, with the Supreme Court holding that the First Amendment does not guarantee total religious freedom if practitioners violate generally applicable state laws. While spiritual leaders and Native American groups have continuously asserted their right to practice their own religions over the past centuries, groups such as the American Indian Movement (AIM) reignited the fight for Native religious rights, protection, and respect in the 1960s, when Native American political activism emerged with efforts such as the 1969 occupation of Alcatraz.