The role of religion in conservation issues has been recognized at international level since the 1990s. Nowadays, there is little doubt about the importance of specifically addressing religious communities in conservation institutions and practices. This relationship between religion and environmentalism could be analysed from at least two different perspectives: first, from the policy and management level; and second, from the legal level. In the first case, the main concern is raised by the role of faith-based organizations in planning and implementing conservation policies. From the second perspective, the fundamental question addressed by legal scholars is the relationship between religious freedom rights and environmental protection, or environmental rights. This paper deals with the latter perspective and argues in favour of the possibility of considering the protection of sacred natural sites (SNS) through the right of worship as a common expression of the right to religious freedom. In this sense, I argue that the protection of this kind of place should be enhanced, given that religious freedom is a subjective right, which cannot be easily overridden as other land-based rights that are usually used as instruments for protecting sacred natural sites.
The engagement with environmental movements can be motivated by several different reasons, which can be assessed by an analysis of the different environmental discourses. Despite the fact that main environmental activism and policy at international level today is motivated or inspired by what could be considered as a materialistic world view – and in this sense, the object of environmental policy and law is nature, considered as a material foreground where the whole of humanity dwells, and where we all go looking for natural resources – this is obviously not the only motivation for engaging in environmental issues, and in some contexts not the best way to draw attention to environmental concerns.
For instance, in the beginning of the environmental movement, by the end of the 19th century and in the first decades of the 20th century in the United States, immaterial values, like beauty, contemplation, sublimity and spirituality were important motives of those considered as environmentalists, like Henry Thoreau, John Muir, Ralph Waldo Emerson, George Perkin Marsh. At that time, nature was not yet reduced to its quantitative and measurable aspects, at least in the conservation imaginary