Federal Suit Alleges Religious Limits on Mauna Kea

Big Island Now.com by Jamilia Epping  July 8, 2015

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A lawsuit has been filed in Federal District Court alleging that the Office of Mauna Kea Management and other state agencies are restricting cultural and religious practices on the mountain.

Attorney Lanny Sinkin says that he is representing Frank Kamealoha Anuumealani Nobriga, the Kahuna of the Temple of Lono. He’s suing Governor David Ige, Department of Land and Natural Resources Chair Suzanne Case, and University of Hawai’i at Hilo chancellor Donald Straney.

In the suit, filed July 7, Nobriga challenges various agencies, including the DLNR and the Office of Mauna Kea Management, for “taking various actions to prevent repetition of successful action by those seeking to protect Mauna a Wakea from desecration.”

On June 24, people in opposition of the Thirty Meter Telescope project atop Mauna Kea successfully kept TMT construction crews from reaching their work site. In a document, provided by Simkin, seeking to gain a Temporary Restraining Order against the state, the plaintiff states that the rocks placed on the Mauna Kea access road were placed there “to deescalate the increasing tension between the Protectors and the Department of Land and Natural Resources enforcement officers.”

Nobriga claims that actions taken by various state agencies following the June 24 blockade included closing the Mauna Kea Visitor Information Station, cutting off water at the 9,000 foot level, locking up the bathrooms, and closing the road.

The complaint questions whether the Office of Mauna Kea Management is using its “large group” policy to squelch cultural and religious activities on the mountain. Nobriga states in the declaration that no more than 10 people from the same organization are allowed to go up the mountain at one time.

MKVIS’ website confirms this, stating: “Groups are defined as more than 10 people from one organization wishing to visit Mauna Kea. All group visits require an approved Special Request Form prior to their visit. Larger groups shall not be split up into smaller numbers to circumvent any requirements.” The form must be turned in a month ahead of time.

“What we see is a coordinated effort to both stifle religious expression and suppress opposition to the TMT,” Sinkin said to Big Island Now Wednesday. “The Office of Mauna Kea Management is a defendant because it is their rangers that are enforcing restrictions on faith practice. The DLNR is creating the exclusionary zone on the Mauna Kea Access Road that will prevent the continued vigil in opposition to the TMT and prevent large groups from assembling on the road.”

On Friday, the Department of Land and Natural Resources is meeting to adopt emergency amendments to its rules, defining a “restricted area” within a mile of the Mauna Kea Access Road and prohibiting certain types of items in that area, including tarps, backpacks, blankets, tents, and “other obvious camping paraphernalia.”

Simkin says that Judge Derrick Watson will preside over the hearing on the complaint Thursday in Honolulu at 9 a.m.