The founding fathers of this country thought so much of having freedom of religion it’s the very first right they protected in the Bill of Rights. The First Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits the making of any law “respecting an establishment of religion”, or “impeding the free exercise of religion”. But any member of a minority religion knows this isn’t true. In reality any religious practice or belief that doesn’t conform to the Judaea-Christian majority religion has been outlawed despite the 1st amendment; i.e. Polygamy, Religious sacrifice’s, Religious sacraments.
The laws of this country are based on Christian beliefs those practices that conflict have been made illegal by our Christian lawmakers. The sacraments of minority religions have been made illegal in the USA, but there is a ongoing legal fight to undo this travesty.
To put this in perspective during the American alcohol prohibition, the Volstead Act of 1919 had a religious exemption which allowed Catholics to continue to use alcohol (wine), despite the general law banning alcohol. Catholics, Christians and Jews use wine for religious ceremonies.
This month 44 years ago the 91st Congress passed the (CSA) Controlled Substance Act which doesn’t provide for First Amendment religious exemptions for schedule 1 drugs. It banned and made the sacrament(s) of minority religions; schedule 1 illegal drugs.
The CSA even made Native Americans the original peoples of America “criminals” for their beliefs. The (NAC) Native America Church beliefs vary considerably from tribe to tribe. Yet many use PEYOTE “the entheogen peyote (Lophophora williamsii)” sacramentally to induce religious, shamanic, or spiritual experiences. Peyote was used pre-Columbus to commune with the spirit world and also as a medicine.
In 1988 when a Native American (Mr. Smith) was denied unemployment because he tested positive for Peyote, he fought it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court based on the first amendment and lost. Employment Division, Department of Human Resources of Oregon v. Smith, 494 U.S. 872 (1990), this case put legal use of peyote by American Indians in legal jeopardy based on the CSA. The Supreme Court said a law that gives preferred treatment to secular interests as compared with religious interests or that gives preferred treatment to one religion as compared with another is not "neutral."
In 1994 the religiously infused republican led Congress angered at the Smith ruling, passed the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act and amended the American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978, i.e., the American Indian Religious Freedom Act Amendments of 1994, pertinent excerpts of which are given below:
No Indian shall be penalized or discriminated against for Use, possession, or transportation of peyote notwithstanding any other provision of law, the use, possession, or transportation of peyote by an Indian for bona fide traditional ceremonial purposes in connection with the practice of a traditional Indian religion is lawful, and shall not be prohibited by the United States or any State nor denial of otherwise applicable benefits under public assistance programs.—42 U.S.C. 1996A(b)(1).
SO NOW NAC MEMBERS CAN USE PEYOTE LEGALLY
The União do Vegetal (UDV) is a Brazilian based Christian Spiritualist religion now practiced by over 17,000 people, including US members. União do Vegetal literally means “the union of the plants.” Adherents drink a tea “ayahuasca” within their religious services that is made from two plants indigenous to the Brazilian Amazon. The tea, also known as Hoasca, is revered as sacred by UDV members as a sacrament serving to heighten spiritual understanding and perception, and bring the practitioners closer to God. The U.S. Government via the CSA considers Hoasca a schedule 1 drug because it contains natural DMT – Dimethyltryptamine.
On February 21, 2006 the U.S. Supreme Court in Gonzales vs UDV 04-1084, decided that members of the União do Vegetal (UDV) church must be allowed to continue using their DMT-containing brew “ayahuasca”. The case before the Supreme Court was simply that the UDV requested the DEA to stop seizing their psychoactive tea and arresting church members. Chief Justice Roberts agreed, writing the opinion, Roberts said that religious freedom cases can be difficult "but Congress has it that courts should strike sensible balances."
SO NOW THE UDV CHURCH MEMBERS CAN USE HOACSA
Why hasn’t this legal argument applied to Rastafarians who believe cannabis, which they call "ganja", "the herb," or "Kaya" is a sacred gift of Jah (GOD) and used for spiritual purposes to commune with God but should not be used profanely? The US Government erroneously classifies marijuana as a schedule 1 drug. So both peyote and the sacramental tea “ayahuasca” schedule 1 drugs have been provided religious exemptions by the Supreme Court. Accordingly if we have true equality, ganja (marijuana) must be afforded the same exemption to Rastafarians.
When New Jersey revised its criminal code with the 1987 N.J.S.A. 2C:35-5a (1)-5b.10 (a) omnibus crime bill, it failed to provide for a religious exemption for marijuana. As Rastafarianism regards marijuana as a sacrament necessary to the practice of the religion, the statutes prohibiting marijuana are unconstitutional. When I presented that argument to the NJ Appeals court in 2003 it rejected the argument in spite of the federal rulings. I couldn’t afford to get my state arguments before the Federal Appeals courts.
So I deliberately created a new case by smoking marijuana at the liberty Bell (Independence National Historic Park – (federal property) in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and invoking a religious defense. I was found guilty by a federal magistrate but appealed. In an opinion dated July 22, 2005, the Honorable Stewart Dalzell affirmed the conviction but vacated the sentence. See http://www.ethipianzioncopticchurch.org/Cases/forchion.aspx (United States v. Edward Forchion )Opinion. The case remanded back to the Honorable Arnold C. Rapoport for further proceedings but Judge Rapoport dismissed the case without ruling on the Religious Constitutional issues. That was disappointing and I felt the Judge deliberately denied me the opportunity to present these religious arguments out of allegiance to his own religious views.
Again in 2010 when the State of New Jersey enacted a medical marijuana law but failed to include a religious exemption. The NJ Medical Marijuana Compassionate Use Act allows a secular (medical) exemption to the state criminal drug statutes but fails to make a religious exemption. Thus the NJMCCUA is unconstitutional in my opinion and I have once again presented this religious argument before the NJ Appeals court in State of New Jersey vs Forchion, A-004052-12T4.
It’s not just my opinion thou - The federal courts have said religion must not be disfavored when the government grants exceptions to statutory prohibition. When a law that is not generally applicable or not neutral interferes with the practice of religion, such interference must be justified by a compelling governmental interest and must be narrowly tailored.Two recent cases in the lower federal courts illustrate the application of this principle.
Police v. City of Newark NJ, 170 F.3d 359 (3d Cir. 1999), is a case that was argued before the Third Circuit Court of Appeals on 1998. In this case, the Police Department of City of Newark had ordered its police officers to be clean-shaven; however, it made an exception for secular medical conditions. Two Muslim members of the police asserted a religious belief that required them to maintain beards, and filed a lawsuit complaining that their freedom of religion was being violated. The court held because exceptions were made for those who needed to wear a beard for a secular (medical) reason, the compelling-interest test would govern the prohibition's application to claims for religious exemption. Because the department offered no compelling reason for the policy, the court upheld the Free Exercise claim.
Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye, Inc. v. Hialeah FL, 508 U.S. 520 (1993),was a case in which the Supreme Court of the United States held that an ordinance passed in Hialeah, Florida, forbidding the "unnecessary" killing of "an animal in a public or private ritual or ceremony not for the primary purpose of food consumption", was unconstitutional. The church filed a lawsuit seeking to declare the Hialeah ordinance to be declared unconstitutional. Justice Anthony Kennedy stating in the decision, “religious beliefs need not be acceptable, logical, consistent or comprehensible to others in order to merit First Amendment protection”.
Knowing all this in 2007 when I moved to Los Angeles I opened my Liberty Bell Temple II, inc., after the Nov 2007 moratorium on opening medical marijuana dispensaries in Los Angeles. The Liberty Bell Temple wasn’t a dispensary. I incorporated as a 503(r) religious corporation and opened proclaiming if the City of Los Angeles allowed “secular” medical dispensaries the city must allow religious dispensaries.
On July 14th 2010 the Liberty Bell Temple was raided by the City of Los Angeles for violating the moratorium, we re-opened the next day and sought an injunction in the state courts declaring we weren’t a medical marijuana dispensary and not prohibited by the moratorium, but a religious temple providing “medical marijuana” to our congregation. On Dec 10, 2010 California State Judge Mohr concurred and allowed the Liberty Bell Temple, II inc., to remain open as a legal dispensary and granted us a injunction.
A year later at the behest of New Jersey officials the (Los Angeles based) DEA on Dec 13th, 2011 raided us – this time we had no money to reopen and closed on Feb 3rd, 2012. I now plan to open a “religious dispensary” in New Jersey The Liberty Bell Temple III, inc., I await the NJ Appeals court decision in State Vs Forchion for some guidance. But I know Gov Christie and the idiot Politicians of New Jersey can't regulate a Church/Temple/Synagoue – that’s the guarantee of the first amendment!