Growing up in Philadelphia, Flag Day (June 14) was always a special day marked by celebrations at the Betsy Ross house and honoring the great symbol of these United States. But what about that other symbol the Bald Eagle? It seems our government has mixed feelings about it.
If you remember in the 1970's the eagle population was declining greatly and the US government listed it as endangered and with the help of ornithologists successfully increased the amounts of eagles both bald and golden in the US. Today it is still a protected species and you can be given a hefty fine or imprisonment for killing or injuring one.
Except wind mills or more precisely those who operate wind turbines that generate wind energy. Wind turbines are a bird's worst nightmare. The turbines create a tornado-like vortex that birds get sucked into. A study done in Spain estimates that wind turbines kill 18 million birds and bats each year in that country. In our country among the numbers of birds killed by wind turbines are many bald and golden eagles. So to solve this bloody dilemma the Fish and Wildlife Service proposed a new rule which would allow operators of Wind Turbines to pay a fee and be exempt from penalties from killing/injuring eagles up to 4,200 eagles a year. So much for all the preservation work done in the 70's. I am sure all hell would break loose if 4,200 eagles were covered with oil from an oil spill but 4,200 eagles killed by wind turbines is somehow acceptable.
In the meantime in Texas the Lipan Apache tribe had eagle feathers that they use in religious rituals confiscated by the Feds. Since the tribe in not officially designated as such by the Federal Government but only by the State of Texas, it is not exempt from the laws that govern eagle feathers. (Apparently the Federal government is the only one who can determine who is Native American). The tribe does not harm eagles it simply collects eagle feathers but in these United States possessing eagle feathers without permission is a criminal offense. And anyone who knows anything about birds knows that they molt several times a year so if you know where to look you can find feathers especially from large birds.
The tribe sued and after a 10yr battle won the case and got its eagle feathers back. They were able to prevail using the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). The same law the Little Sisters used to prevail against the HHS contraception mandate. The disturbing part of both these cases is that the government decided to mess with the religious practices/rituals of both the tribe and the Little Sisters.
So on the one hand federal officials zealously confiscated eagle feathers from the Lipan Apache tribe and were willing to expend the resources for a ten-year legal battle, all to demonstrate their seriousness of protecting eagles. Then on the other hand other federal officials decided it is acceptable to have at least 4,200 eagles killed by wind turbines each year to demonstrate their commitment to alternative sources of energy. Little do the majestic birds know that they are being used as pawns for a variety of political agendas. If they did they probably would rather take their chances with hunters than with government bureaucracy.
The flag that Betsy sewed still flies over our land for now. Will it continue to fly? More on that next week…
Fr. John B.