Linda Sacks in Native Currents. Discussion »
WETUMPKA, ALABAMA Hickory Ground's spearhead, Wayland Gray, was found guilty yesterday by a district court in Wetumpka, Alabama of misdemeanor charges of trespassing and disorderly conduct without the acknowledgment of his First Amendment right.
The guilty verdict carried a three months in jail sentence which the judge suspended. Gray also received two years probation, and was banned from the Porch Band of Creek Indian's property as a stipulation to the sentence.
“As natives we have to stand up for our ancestors and their burial grounds. We can't let casinos triumph over culture,”
said Wayland Gray after his sentencing.
Gray's team produced seven witnesses; three of them were the other men who were arrested with Gray on February 15th along with Wetumpka's First Baptist Church's pastor, Dr. James Troglen, who testified on Grays behalf.
“Obviously the judge realized we were able to produce evidence and show the court he did not deserve to be punished, which is why we got a suspended sentence. We felt that the trial witnesses were very good at establishing he was within his rights,”
said Brendan Ludwick, Gray's attorney.
“But this judge didn't consider the federal law or his constitutional rights. The court didn't seem to understand the issues.”
In Gray's effort to respect his ancestral ground and sacred site, he finds himself in the balance of another injustice according to Ludwick.
“Unfortunately, this particular court in Wetumpka did not seem to give a lot of weight to the First Amendment.”
Ludwick pointed out The First Amendment protects religious liberty by both prohibiting a government establishment of religion and safeguarding the free exercise of religion, the first individual right listed in the Bill of Rights. He also believes this case is bigger than one man's fight and possesses potential precedent of disastrous things to come for all Native people and Native nations in the United States if this decision is not reversed.
“The court showed no regard for Native American religious freedom. We believe this case is important as it relates to all Native Americans accessing sacred places. These grounds are important and access to them is protected by constitutional rights,”
according to Ludwick.
“We can't allow this precedent to be set only to have other sacred grounds be destroyed for any reason. Now everyone got to see that the Porch Band lied about me and how far they are willing to go, and what kinds of people we are dealing with.”
Says Wayland Gray.
Gray has appealed to the state court and will exercise his right to a jury trial with a court date yet to be determined. According to Ludwick it could take up to over a year to see the next court date.
updated August 26, 2013 2:40 pm edt; posted August 23, 2013 6:57 am edt