A story I have been covering for some time, the saga of a ski resort wanting to spray (treated) wastewater snow on the San Francisco Peaks, may be entering its final act. The snow-makers are being fought by a coalition of 13 Native American Tribal Nations who feel the act of spraying treated waste-snow is a blashpemy on par with “pouring dirty water on the Vatican”. Since 2005 the coalition have endured ignorant insults from lawyers, courtroom wins, and courtroom losses. Now the case is being appealed before the Suprem Court for a final say.
American Indian tribes are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review a lower court’s decision that allows for snow-making on an Arizona peak the tribes consider sacred. In their petition filed Monday, the tribes contend the use of treated wastewater to make snow at Arizona Snowbowl violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and could contaminate natural resources.
In the most recent ruling, the Court found that using reclaimed sewer water to make snow for skiing on an admittedly sacred site posed no ‘substantial burden’ on the Plaintiffs’ exercise of religion in this case. According to the Court, the “only effect of the proposed upgrades is on the Plaintiffs’ subjective, emotional religious experience. That is, the presence of recycled wastewater on the Peaks is offensive to the Plaintiffs’ religious sensibilities…the diminishment of spiritual fulfillment – serious though it may be – is not a ‘substantial burden’ on the free exercise of religion.” The Court dismissed Plaintiffs’ religious beliefs as calling them mere “damaged spiritual feelings.”