December 2018 Church & State | People & Events

A recent ruling by the Hawaii Supreme Court clears the way for a large telescope to be built atop an ancient volcano that some people consider sacred.

Controversy over the telescope on Mauna Kea on Hawaii, the largest island in the chain, has raged for years. Some native Hawaiians have argued that the presence of the telescope will disrupt religious and cultural activities at the site, reported The New York Times.

The telescope is slated to be built by an international team of scientists from the United States, Japan, China, Canada and India. Known as the “Thirty Meter Telescope,” or TMT Project, it could cost upward of $2 billion to construct.

The court ruled 4-1 that the presence of the telescope on the volcano won’t interfere with native uses of the land. It noted that a study of the telescope site indicated there was no history of religious uses there, although such practices did take place on other parts of the volcano.

“Furthermore, in general, astronomy and Native Hawaiian uses on Mauna Kea have co-existed for many years and the TMT Project will not curtail or restrict Native Hawaiian uses,” observed the court. “In addition, the TMT is an advanced world-class telescope designed to investigate and answer some of the most fundamental questions regarding our universe, including the formation of stars and galaxies after the Big Bang and how the universe evolved to its present form. Native Hawaiians will also be included in other direct benefits from the TMT.”

Some Native Hawaiians consider the volcano, which is nearly 14,000 feet in height, to be a living ancestor that gave birth to the first inhabitants of the island. The area is home to many shrines.

Protestors have been gathering at the site for years, sometimes blocking access to the construction zone. After the ruling was issued, they vowed to continue protesting.

“The court is the last bastion in democracy,” Kealoha Pisciotta, a leader in the protest movement, told the Associated Press. “The only other option is to take to the streets. If we lose the integrity of the court, then you’re losing normal law and order, and the only other option is people have to rise up.”

A final appeal to the U.S. Sup­reme Court is under consideration. But for now, state officials say the project will move forward.

“The court’s decision will allow Hawaii to continue to lead the world in astronomy,” Gov. David Ige (D) said.

The case is titled Re: Conservation District Use Application (CDUA) HA-3568 for the Thirty Meter Telescope at the Mauna Kea Science Reserve.

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