FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — A wooden box carried an eagle feather and bone whistle, a gourd rattle and a feather fan — items that carry spiritual energy and are used in Native American religious ceremonies.
The man holding the box asked security agents at the San Antonio International Airport to allow him to display the items so their energy wouldn’t be polluted. The agents declined, roughly handling the items and shoving them back in the box, former Native American Church of North America President Sandor Iron Rope alleged.
His lawsuit against the Transportation Security Administration recently was settled, with neither side acknowledging fault and the agency agreeing to better educate its employees about Native American religious items at more than a dozen airports nationwide.
“There was a policy in place designed to provide some protection for us, but they don’t have training,” Iron Rope said Wednesday. “Not everybody is familiar with the policies.”
The TSA did not respond to messages seeking comment this week.
The Native American Church has multiple chapters around the country and an estimated 250,000 members. The church that formed in 1918 blends Native American beliefs and Christianity but doesn’t have formal buildings. Instead, its members meet in teepees for lengthy ceremonies and use peyote as a sacrament.
Its most visible legal battles have been over peyote, a hallucinogenic that only grows naturally in the United States in southern Texas. States had varied laws on Native Americans’ use of the cactus until the early 1990s, when a federal law allowed Native Americans who are part of the church to possess peyote.
For anyone else, it’s illegal, in the same category as heroin and cocaine. Membership cards cite the federal law and another that allows Native Americans to possess migratory birds.
One of Iron Rope’s attorneys, Forrest Tahdooahnippah, said church members have had enough bad experiences to discourage them from air travel. He said Iron Rope had no indication agents believed his ceremonial items were dangerous.
“That’s part of the reason we felt there should have been a lawsuit in the first place,” he said. “Screening of items should be reserved for things TSA has a legitimate suspicion are going to be a danger to traveler safety.”
Passengers can do their part by alerting the TSA at least 72 hours in advance to carry-on items that need additional screening and by clearly communicating beliefs, said Richard Bloom, director of terrorism, intelligence, and security studies at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Arizona.
Security agents cannot be trained in all religions, but he said they can improve on dealing with the unknown.
“A little bit of sensitivity and respect and really being open to the unique needs of a religious individual can go a long way toward negotiating something that works for the individual and for the TSA,” Bloom said.
Not all religious items would be allowed on planes with passengers, however.
The TSA prohibits religious knives like the kirpan. Sikhs who carry them do not view them as weapons or accessories but as extensions of their being and their belief that they are protectors of the weak.
The Sikh Coalition, a civil rights organization, has issued travel guidelines alerting the community that kirpans can be in checked baggage only, and the faithful generally adhere. But the coalition has represented at least one Sikh man in a case where he was charged for carry kirpans through airport security. The case eventually was dropped.
As part of the settlement with the Native American Church of North America, the TSA and the plaintiffs will collaborate on a webinar that will be available to agents who work with passengers well ahead of their flights to move items through security.
Those webinars will be shown to TSA employees in Albuquerque and Farmington, New Mexico; Durango, Colorado; Great Falls, Montana; Minot, North Dakota; Rapid City and Sioux Falls, South Dakota; and San Antonio, Laredo and McAllen, Texas.
Certain TSA employees in Saint Paul, Minnesota; Omaha, Nebraska; Oklahoma City; Phoenix; and Denver will have to review guidelines for screening Native American religious items.
A fact sheet for travelers with Native American religious items will be published in the next three months, and the church will be able to advise and make recommendations to the TSA.
“We’re hopeful we’ll have a place at the table now so that any future concerns will be addressed quicker and more efficiently than through a lawsuit,” Tahdooahnippah said.
Federal prosecutors have asked a judge to reconsider the dismissal of the criminal case against a Nevada rancher who led a 2014 armed standoff with government agents.
States’ rights activist Cliven Bundy and his sons Ryan and Ammon Bundy have a right to their beliefs but don’t have a right to obstruct federal law enforcement officers, wrote Dayle Elieson, the interim U.S. Attorney in Nevada, in a court filing Wednesday.
Elieson said the Bundys sought all along to “deflect responsibility” and blame the federal government even though they risked the lives of more than 20 officers who were “simply doing what they were told to do.”
The Bundys and their supporters “demonized the uniformed men and women in the wash, conflated their jobs with their identities, and claimed that their work was immoral,” Elieson wrote.
Chief U.S. District Judge Gloria Navarro last month dismissed the criminal case against Bundy, his two sons and a Montana militia leader. The judge cited what she called flagrant misconduct by federal prosecutors who failed to fully share evidence with defendants.
Elieson doesn’t say in the filing if her office will appeal to 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and Trisha Young, a spokeswoman for the office, declined to answer the question.
Bundy’s attorney, Bret Whipple, didn’t return request for comment to The Associated Press but told the Las Vegas Review Journal that prosecutors may be trying to buy more time to decide on an appeal. Whipple told the Review Journal the filing contains no new information and is without merit.
After the case was dismissed and Cliven Bundy was let out of jail, the rancher who has become an icon in conservative and anti-government circles said that it’s up to the states, not the federal officials, how to manage vast expanses of rangeland in the U.S. West
“I don’t recognize the federal government to have authority, jurisdiction, no matter who the president is,” Bundy said last month.
Elieson argues in the new filing that Judge Navarro should have dismissed individual counts rather than the entire case.
She contends that the dismissal sets a dangerous precedent for law enforcement by encouraging the public to disrespect the law.
“This case has major ramifications for all public lands law enforcement officers,” Elieson said. “These officers often work alone in remote rural areas of the country with no available back-up if confronted with danger.”
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The Utah House of Representatives is investigating whether a lawmaker who abruptly resigned used a state-issued cellphone and hotel room paid for with taxpayer money to arrange trysts with a prostitute.
House Speaker Greg Hughes declined to comment on a Thursday report in British newspaper the Daily Mail that former Republican Rep. Jon Stanard twice hired a prostitute in 2017.
House Chief of Staff Greg Hartley says he’s checking legislative records to see if the chamber paid for hotel stays and the cellphone that the report alleges Stanard used.
Stanard, who stepped down Tuesday night, didn’t respond to messages seeking comment Thursday.
His lawyer, Walter Bugden, declined to comment and didn’t respond to a message asking if he was denying the Daily Mail report.
PHOENIX (AP) — An Arizona man accused of providing armor-piercing ammunition to the gunman in the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history has been given more time to get rid of guns and ammunition in his possession.
As part of his release from custody, Douglas Haig was ordered by a judge to remove all firearms and ammunition from his possession by late Wednesday afternoon.
Magistrate Judge Michelle Burns moved the deadline to late Friday afternoon after Haig’s lawyer said his client needed more time to find someone with the proper credentials to take the items.
A criminal complaint against Haig says two unfired armor-piercing bullets found inside the Las Vegas hotel room where Stephen Paddock launched the Oct. 1 attack had Haig’s fingerprints.
Authorities say Paddock killed 58 people in the attack.
ROCK SPRINGS, Wyo. (AP) — A 63-year-old man has been arrested in Wyoming and charged with sex trafficking.
Federal court records say David Peter Vier, a former Everett, Washington, firefighter, is charged with a single count of transportation of minors with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity.
KTWO-AM reports Vier made his initial appearance in U.S. District Court in Cheyenne on Wednesday. U.S. Magistrate Judge Kelly Rankin ordered Vier held without bond.
Sweetwater County Sheriff’s deputies arrested Vier on Jan. 20 after receiving a report about two girls hiding from a man at a hotel.
Police say they found two female juveniles — ages 12 and 14 — with Vier. The girls were placed in protective custody.
It wasn’t immediately known whether Vier had an attorney.