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Native American Church’s Lawsuit against the TSA


A look at the Native American Church’s Lawsuit against the TSA


Sandor Iron Rope, the former president of the Native American Church of North America, was disappointed with the Transportation Security Administration personnel at San Antonio International Airport for mishandling and disrespecting items that have religious significance. Sandor Rope had with him a wooden box and inside was an eagle feather, gourd rattle, feather fan and bone whistle. According to the religious beliefs of the Native American Church, these items have spiritual energy and they are commonly used in different rituals and ceremonies. None of these items posed any threat to the safety of the airport, the flyers or the staffs. Yet, the items were handled without care and without any sensitivity to their religious significance.


Sandor Rope chose to file a lawsuit against the Transportation Security Administration for not doing enough to be sensitive towards all religions and cultures. The lawsuit was eventually settled in January 2018 with neither party agreeing to any wrongdoing but both parties willing to coordinate and work together to create a training program that can help the personnel working in transportation security to be familiar with different religions and particularly the items that are significant for Native Americans. Sandor Rope stated that the TSA did have many policies that attended to the diverse needs but there was a lack of training and not every personnel was aware of those regulations.


The TSA in fact has various norms pertaining to various types of items for different religions. For instance, Sikhs are not allowed to carry their kirpans in flight. The kirpans, which are a special knife, are not exactly weapons in Sikhism but an extension of the attire and being of the faithful. It is purposed to be used to protect the weak. Sikhs check in their kirpans in the baggage as they cannot have it on them in the cabin. Likewise, there is already a rule in place that exempts followers of the Native American Church of North America from carrying peyote.


There are over quarter of a million members of the Native American Church, across its various chapters in the country. The members often use the hallucinogenic peyote as a religious and ceremonial sacrament. Peyote is a cactus native to southern Texas where it grows on its own. Americans are prohibited from carrying or possessing peyote. It is classified in the same category of banned or controlled substances as cocaine and heroin. However, the Native Americans or members of the Native American Church can carry this substance, even on flights.


The lawsuit has been settled amicably and there is a joint effort to help train the security personnel. TSA employees in almost a dozen different airports will get this additional training, pegged as a job aid. They would be familiarized with different items that must be treated with care and respect. They would also get to watch a webinar and will be provided some hand-holding to ensure no believer in the Native American Church and its religious practices is mistreated or dealt with in any insensible and unprofessional manner.