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

No, the First Church of Cannabis Won’t Accomplish Anything April 1, 2015

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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