Religious liberty story gets headlines

The New York Times wrote a respectful story about religion in the public square. Here’s the lede:

Once again, science, religion and politics have become entwined in a thorny public policy debate. This time, however, the discussion is not about abortion, birth control or health insurance mandates.

It’s about wolves.

Apparently the Wisconsin legislature is considering authorizing a hunting season on wolves. It’s been approved by the Senate already. Hunters love it, the politicians are generally on board, wildlife biologists have some questions, and one religious group opposes it on principle:

But the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Game Commission, which represents 11 tribes of the Ojibwe (also known as the Chippewa, or Anishinaabe) in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan, opposes the hunt on the basis of religious principle and tradition.

In written testimony presented to both legislative houses, James Zorn, the executive administrator of the commission, said, “In the Anishinaabe creation story we are taught that Ma’iingan (wolf) is a brother to Original man.” He continued, “The health and survival of the Anishinaabe people is tied to that of Ma’iingan.” For that reason the tribes are opposed to a public hunt.

Joe Rose Sr., a professor emeritus of Native American studies at Northland College in Ashland, Wis., and an elder of the Bad River Band, said in an interview that he saw a collision of world views. “We don’t have stories like Little Red Riding Hood, or the Three Little Pigs, or the werewolves of Transylvania,” he said. Wolf, or Ma’iingan, is a sacred creature, and so even keeping the population of wolves to minimum levels runs counter to traditional beliefs.

The story explains that the Ojibwe have rights in the lands, although it’s not made very clear what those rights are. They can claim half the biological harvest and must be consulted about decisions such as the wolf hunt. The story acknowledges that it’s not clear what that means for the wolf hunt, but it may have been helpful to spell out exactly why things aren’t clear. Which leads us to this paragraph:

What is clear is that the opposition of the Ojibwe is more like objections to funding for abortions or birth control than it is the calculations of scientists, not in political tone, but in its essence.

Again, I think this could have been spelled out much better. I can think of some reasons why this could be akin to the HHS mandate (and some why it would be different) but I’m not a religious liberty attorney or expert and could use some help clarifying those thoughts from someone who is.

Other than that, though, the story has some nice details about the wolf population and does a good job of letting Anishinaabe describe the situation in their own words.

Wolf photo via Shutterstock.

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  • Bill

    A far more respectful article than the NYT has featured on opposition to the HHS mandate. I, too, would have liked to learn more about the specific legal rights in the lands the tribes “that were once theirs.” Are these property rights, such as mineral rights? Or do they have a say in the use of the land itself? Who has what jurisdiction over the wolves? Feds because of CITES, or MN under game regulations?

    I don’t think the connection to abortion or the HHS mandate is strong. Abortion hinges on when human life begins. Until recently, I would have thought that most everyone would agree that once life begins, the unjustified taking of that human life is impermissible. (A few bioethicists are now proposing that some human life is now disposable.)

    The tribes might argue that the wolves lives are linked to human lives in a sacred way and are analogous to abortion. If accepted, what a Pandora’s box that would open!

    The similarity to the HHS mandate is even more tenuous. Are the tribes being forced to buy wolf hunting permits for their employees? Will they be forced to support and facilitate something against their beliefs?

    Very interesting story. I’d also like to know more about the effects of increasing numbers of large, intelligent and effective predators on game animals and stock.

  • Jerry

    Ok, I admit it. The story was not what I suspected it would be from your headline :-)

    I might be excessively cynical, but I have to wonder if it was easier for the NY Times to write this story the way they did because it involves Native American beliefs and not Christians?

    Still, I’m happy to have read this story.

  • Jeff

    “I might be excessively cynical, but I have to wonder if it was easier for the NY Times to write this story the way they did because it involves Native American beliefs and not Christians?”

    You are far from “excessively cynical,” Jerry.

    It would not be adequately realistic to view this story any other way.

  • Bill

    Jerry, I don’t think you’re excessively cynical, either. Native American religious beliefs are not a threat to an agenda the Times supports… especially when those beliefs are opposed to hunting a politically correct species. Any bets whether the Times is against the wolf hunt? But it’s open season on Christianity.

  • Maureen

    I wish they’d explained a bit more. Do they mean a literal brother? Because there’s religion and then there’s legends, and there’s a line there.

    In the Hebrides and other Irish and Scottish areas where seal was normally an important source of food and materials, there were always some families who claimed that they were related to selkies (were-seals), and thus would not eat or hunt seals. These families tended to have reproachful songs about selkie women mourning their dead, etc. It wasn’t a religious thing; they thought it was a historical fact that selkies were their kin.