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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