No, the First Church of Cannabis Won’t Accomplish Anything

On Monday, my Facebook news feed lit up with gleeful posts about an Indiana resident filing papers to incorporate the First Church of Cannabis as a religion and claims that this make those RFRA supporters regret passing the law. They’re going to unleash an unintended result they don’t want! That’ll teach ’em! Relax, folks. That’s all nonsense. TBogg, who I usually really enjoy reading, helped promote this bad idea:

In a classic case of “unintended consequences,” the recently signed Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) in Indiana may have opened the door for the establishment of the First Church of Cannabis in the Hoosier State…

Church founder Bill Levin announced on his Facebook page that the church’s registration has been approved, writing, “Status: Approved by Secretary of State of Indiana – “Congratulations your registration has been approved!” Now we begin to accomplish our goals of Love, Understanding, and Good Health.”

Levin is currently seeking $4.20 donations towards his non-profit church.

According to Indiana attorney and political commentator Abdul-Hakim Shabazz, Indiana legislators, in their haste to protect the religious values and practices of their constituents, may have unwittingly put the state in an awkward position with those who profess to smoke pot as a religious sacrament.

Shabazz pointed out that it is still illegal to smoke pot in Indiana, but wrote, “I would argue that under RFRA, as long as you can show that reefer is part of your religious practices, you got a pretty good shot of getting off scot-free.”

No, you actually don’t. There’s this big misconception, I think, that RFRA grants some automatic exemption, that if someone says that it violates their religious freedom — voila! — they can break any law they want. It just doesn’t work that way. What RFRA allows one to do is ask a court to grant them such an exemption and the court then has to evaluate that request and apply the standards set forth in the law. First, you have a burden to show two things: First, that this really is a genuine religious belief you have; second, that the law imposes a “substantial burden” on your ability to live that religion.

But even if you do those things, that doesn’t mean you get the exemption you’re demanding. The government then gets to argue that enforcing the law in this circumstance achieves a compelling governmental interest. If they do so, it doesn’t matter if it prevents you from exercising your religious beliefs.

So let’s imagine that I don’t want to follow traffic laws so I create the Holy Temple of Driving Fast and register it as a church. I then ask the court to make me exempt from having to obey stop signs and lights or speed limits because they prevent me from exercising my firm and sincere religious belief that God wants me to drive fast. Is the court going to take my religious beliefs seriously? Of course not. You can argue whether they should or not. You can argue that all religions are made up at some point, the only difference is that this is a brand new one. But right or wrong, the courts are not going to take my brand new, conveniently made up religion seriously. And even if they did, I’m still going to lose the case because the government has an obvious and clear interest in preventing car accidents and protecting public safety.

The same thing will happen to the First Church of Cannabis. If they try to file a suit under RFRA to stick it to the Christians, it will be a complete waste of time and money. They would lose and lose badly, regardless of whether you think they should or not.

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  • bybelknap

    Funny when wishful thinking and reality collide.

  • psweet

    Wasn’t the use of illegal drugs the question that prompted the passage of the federal RFRA? And if I recall, the Hobby Lobby ruling stated that it’s not the court’s job to evaluate the sincerity or accuracy of a person’s (or corporation’s, I guess) religious beliefs.

  • raven

    The same thing will happen to the First Church of Cannabis. If they try to file a suit under RFRA to stick it to the Christians, it will be a complete waste of time and money. They would lose and lose badly, regardless of whether you think they should or not.

    Not necessarily.

    The court cases on churches using hallucinogens have been all over the place. Sometimes they win, sometimes they lose.

    Court Says Ayahuasca a Religious Freedom – MIQEL.com

    www. miqel. com/entheogens/supreme_court_ayahuasca_tea.html

    U.S. Supreme Court Says Church Can Use Hallucinogen … The U.S. Supreme Court, saying law enforcement goals in some cases must yield to religious rights, …

    Churches that use Ayahuasca, which contains DMT, are legal in the USA. This made it all the way to the US Supreme court.

  • dingojack

    Does the state have a compelling interest in preventing child-abuse and child endangerment, increased dependence on the welfare and health-care systems, fraud and so on?

    Dingo

  • Chiroptera

    No, the First Church of Cannabis Won’t Accomplish Anything

    Yeah, pot kind of does that to people.

  • kenn

    I’m thinking about founding my own church. We’d call ourselves the Cannabyterians, and worship a deity called OG Kush.

    I wouldn’t need government approval, ’cause I live in the state of Washington.

  • raven

    Wikipedia Ayahuasca

    The legal status in the United States of DMT-containing plants is somewhat questionable. Ayahuasca plants and preparations are legal, as they contain no scheduled chemicals. However, brews[50] made using DMT containing plants are illegal since DMT is a Schedule I drug. That said, some people are challenging this, using arguments similar to those used by peyotist religious sects, such as the Native American Church.

    A court case allowing the União do Vegetal to import and use the tea for religious purposes in the United States, Gonzales v. O Centro Espirita Beneficente Uniao do Vegetal, was heard by the U.S. Supreme Court on November 1, 2005; the decision, released February 21, 2006, allows the UDV to use the tea in its ceremonies pursuant to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. In a similar case an Ashland, Oregon based Santo Daime church sued for their right to import and consume ayahuasca tea. In March 2009, U.S. District Court Judge Panner ruled in favor of the Santo Daime, acknowledging its protection from prosecution under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.[51]

    FYI.

    If Timothy Leary was still alive, he might be on his way to Indiana to open The First Church of LSD. I’m sure the fundie xians wouldn’t care.

    PS The courts have indicated that religious beliefs don’t have to be true, i.e. The Hobby Lobby case was based on lies and the Supreme court acknowledged that but said it didn’t matter.

    They have to be sincere. But this is meaningless. There is no easy way to tell if religious beliefs are sincere or not and the courts try to avoid deciding who is sincere and who isn’t.

  • dingojack

    “The legal status in the United States of DMT-containing plants is somewhat questionable.”

    The US will lock up an Acacia longifolia? Will it seek the death penalty? And by what method? By lethal injection, firing squad, electrocution, hanging…?

    Dingo

  • Die Anyway

    I’ve listened to the Governor of Indiana say that this isn’t about discrimination, that he’s opposed to any discrimination and that BGLT persons will not be discriminated against because of this law. So I’m trying to figure out why they passed it? I thought the whole point was so that they didn’t have to sell to or serve same sex couples.

    In any case, I’m hearing that 20+ other states have similar laws and we haven’t heard about a sudden rash of discrimination issues based on those laws. Maybe, as Ed is pointing out, these laws have no real teeth. Not that we shouldn’t oppose them or get rid of them but not panic over them either.

    Actually, I was kind of hoping that hundreds of businesses would take advantage of the new law to openly display their bigotry. That would reveal the true intent behind the law and Indiana would suffer even more loss of tourism, convention business, corporate headquarters, etc. But that would mean that some citizens would have to suffer through the discrimination as this process played out so I don’t really wish for it.

  • http://nwrickert.wordpress.com/ Neil Rickert

    “… won’t accomplish anything …”

    It has already accomplished something. It has increased the laughter at GOP follies in Indiana.

  • dingojack

    Is it illegal to grow Apricots, almonds & etc.? Or Potatoes, Tomatoes etc.? What about Monkshood? Atropia belladonna? Foxglove? Angel’s Trumpets? Hellebore? Ivy? Holly? Hensbane? Hyacinth? Narcissus? Frangipani? Calla-lilies? Rhododendrons? Rhubarb? Horse-chestnuts? Columbine? Crocus? Lily-of-the-valley? Larkspur? Broom? Oleander?

    Just to name a few.

    Dingo

  • Alverant

    So Ed, how long does it take a business to get a court date? What’s the burden of proof for “genuine religious belief” and “substantial burden”? Who asks the questions and cross-examines the witnesses, for instance can I ask “How do you know it was your God who said man lying with man is an abomination and not some human homophobe”? What happens between when the request is filed and the hearing? Is there an appeals process? Many businesses are time sensitive, so what’s to stop one from simply trying to wait out the “offending” customer? Can the courts handle the extra duties? Will this be funded by tax payers or does the loser have to pay? What happens when the lawyers get involved?

    Most importantly, why should someone have to go to court at all in order to be treated like an equal?

    And since the IN law includes private businesses while the federal one does not, this law is different than the others? Whether or not it has teeth is immaterial, what’s important is why it’s being passed.

  • DaveL

    Questions like this are the perfect illustration of why there shouldn’t be religious exemptions for anything. If the need for a rule and the reasoning behind it are not sufficiently compelling to overcome an objection based on a religious belief, a belief that itself needn’t be based on sound evidence and reasoning, then it shouldn’t be a rule at all.

  • Sastra

    The same thing will happen to the First Church of Cannabis. If they try to file a suit under RFRA to stick it to the Christians, it will be a complete waste of time and money. They would lose and lose badly, regardless of whether you think they should or not.

    It’s possible that this idea was not suggested to test the law, but to test the resolve of the ordinary folks who were kinda in favor of that law. Even a slight shift in public opinion can be counted as a ‘win’ even if this particular public is being played for damned ignorant fools.

  • busterggi

    Be easier to just become Rastafarians, they already have their own music.

  • busterggi

    Be easier to just become Rastafarians, they already have their own music.

  • Pierce R. Butler

    Won’t accomplish anything?

    Chowing down all those crackers and all that grape juice ought to count for something

  • Alverant

    DaveL, yes plus the way Ed described how the law works, it’s still effectively an automatic exemption because the business would be allowed their exemption until the court date. Since chances are the customer won’t need the business by then (as would be the case of a wedding or getting a pizza) the business wins. If they don’t get their exemption until they get a ruling in their favor the court date becomes moot and their exemption becomes moot because they already did what they were hired to do. So what exactly is the purpose of this law?

  • kenn

    http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/chi-indianas-religious-freedom-law-cannibis-church-20150331-story.html

    Unless this is an April Fools joke, the sec of state of Indiana has approved the First Church of Cannabis.

  • xuuths

    Actually, I don’t think it is accurate that one has to prove something is a deeply held religious belief. Even the SCOTUS in Hobby Lobby admitted they didn’t have a way of determining that (I’m paraphrasing).

    Sec. 5. As used in this chapter, “exercise of religion” includes any exercise of religion, whether or not compelled by, or central to, a system of religious belief.

    Text of RFRA

    But you’re right that people don’t automatically get to avoid all laws.

  • Nemo

    Unless this is an April Fools joke, the sec of state of Indiana has approved the First Church of Cannabis.

    But that doesn’t mean approval of their “sacrament”.

    I do wonder about Rastafarianism. That’s a “real” religion with cannabis as a sacrament. Would the courts feel compelled to take it more seriously?

  • Anri

    raven:

    They have to be sincere. But this is meaningless. There is no easy way to tell if religious beliefs are sincere or not and the courts try to avoid deciding who is sincere and who isn’t.

    An FMRI isn’t all that difficult.

    Now, what we need to do is to have someone found a church and claim that the requirement to demonstrate sincere belief is an affront to their religious practices and that they’d like an exemption from the RFRA under the RFRA…

    …but then again, merely showing the essential silliness of a law does nothing to change it, so never mind.

  • gshelley

    What RFRA allows one to do is ask a court to grant them such an exemption and the court then has to evaluate that request and apply the standards set forth in the law.

    Aren’t the standards according to the act “strict scrutiny” I imagine laws banning dangerous driving would pass the strict scrutiny test, but laws banning canabis use might not.

  • marcus

    Ed, Sometimes I think you take these things too seriously. Sometimes the only point of an action such as this bring more attention to an already ridiculous situation.

    If a law makes it okay for me to discriminate against someone because of my ill-conceived prejudice why doesn’t make it okay for me to smoke weed?

    The very act of making the dumbasses torture their own logic to answer that question is a purpose in itself.

    it is not a necessarily a waste of time and money, it is what it was meant to be, political theater.

    Chiroptera @ 5, Citation please.