Sunday, September 15, 2013

Religion, or late-morning munchies?

In a recent New York Times article, As a Religion, Marijuana-Infused Faith Pushes Commonly Held Limits, reporter Mark Oppenheimer reviewed a case regarding a Hawaii native, Mr. Roger Christie.  Christie is a religious science practitioner, the minister of the Okeluheha Native American Church of Hilo, Hawaii, and the founder of the Hawaii Cannabis THC ministry.

Unfortunately however, Mr. Christie currently resides in the Honolulu Federal Detention center.  It was Mr. Christies affiliation with the Hawaii Cannabis THC ministry that landed him in federal prison.  He was indicted on charges that included conspiracy to manufacture and distribute.  


Christie in no way denies his affiliation with the Hawaii Cannabis THC ministry, and believes that his operation is, "a real ‘street ministry’ serving the needs of our neighbors from all walks of life”, in which Mr Christie actually employees three secretaries and a door man.  Mr. Christies attorney will argue that in Hawaiian federal court, clients should be allowed to present a religious freedom defense at the criminal trial and should be protected by the first amendment, and specifically the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act requires that the government will present a 'compelling interest' whenever it feels substantially burdened by a religious practice.  There was a similar case in New Mexico in which the Supreme Court relied on the act to permit a New Mexican church to use the hallucinogen 'hoasca' for sacramental purposes. 

This poses the debate: is this case is about legal marijuana use, or rather,  what defines a legitimate religion.  Legalized peyote or hoasca have little to no recreational value, and actually make you sick before making you high.  According to the Times article, "marijuana has a huge recreational market, diversion from religious to recreation uses; and false claims of religious use, would be major problems."  The author points out that Mr. Christies case lacks the somber tone that usually distinguishes "religion".  However, have the courts not really offered the public a coherent, clear, or current definition of religion, or any type  of law regarding starting one of your own.  Furthermore, who decides the different privileges between religions that are established and legitimate versus those more liberal and new? Is religion and freedom of religious expression a personal issue, or a constitutional issue?  

I think that the major issue here is a) the inconsistencies with marijuana legalization, but more relatively b) the disparity in the definition of and what constitutes a legitimate religion.  Perhaps it is time for the government to create some sort of council or cabinet that solely deals with religious law; a diverse collection of religious leaders that will act like a parliament, senate, or house of representatives, which could potentially legitimately and physically separate religion from federal law.  

8 comments:

SC said...

This is extremely problematic, especially given the time. Unfortunately, I don’t think a religious exception is something that can be afforded in this circumstance. Marijuana is an illegal substance, and even if an exception was only given to people of the religion, I feel it is inevitable that some non-practitioners would be able to get their hands on it, potentially by theft. This is also a situation that would incite the “What constitutes a religion?” question. As much as I hate to admit it, I found myself face palming at Mr. Christie while reading the article, and would have a difficult time not questioning his piety. An obscure religion coupled with the desire for a substance commonly used as a recreational drug will certainly not work in his favor for this issue.

Maddie C. said...

Based on the First Amendment, it seems unconstitutional for someone to decide whether your religion is legitimate or not. In this case, though, it seems necessary as the religion in question violates the law as stipulated by the government. Marijuana usage has become very popular, and it is hard to decide whether this religion was formed just so that these people could legally use the drug or purely based on religious beliefs. From what I have read from this post, I feel like it is not legitimate and just an excuse to get high. But still a little part of me thinks, who am I to judge someone else’s religion if they truly believe it to be so?

Blair said...

I agree with both Maddie and SC, this case is extremely controversial and hard to declare exactly what is right and wrong. While this religion is obscure, whose to say that its not a set of beliefs and traditions that a group of people identify with? At the same time, they are using a substance that has been a hot topic in United States law enforcement and is in fact legal in some states. I think that this case can be directly applied to the Free Exercise clause and its a question as to whether or not the act of smoking marijuana is truly essential to exercising this religion.

Adam J said...

I agree with Blair that what may need to happen is to look into whether or not the use of marijuana is necessary in the religion. If it is, there may be an issue with the credibility of the religion that then needs to be looked into. I felt that this could ploy a person would use in order to be set free after being caught, especially with the knowledge of what had happened in New Mexico.

Maggie S. said...

I agree with SC, that a religious exemption in this case could be dangerous. I think this is a great example of the kind of case that raises the issue of "what is a legitimate religion?" I think it would be difficult if not impossible to determine the piety of the members, but even if they were "true believers" would it make a difference? I looked up the THC Ministry online, and it said they use biblical references to Cannabis to back up their claims and I'm not sure if this should change the equation or not. Again, I think it's a tough case that might be best viewed by the slippery slope argument.

Dylan Smith said...

So clearly it is an issue that this man is involved in a type of Cannabis ministry. This is clearly a violation of a law that was not made to favor one type of religion or another or atheism of sorts. This is a legitimate law and there is no question what the ruling should be here. The state has no compelling interest to allow the group and exemption. In fact allowing the exemption would only complicate the situation by in a sense opening the court to all sorts of judgements on religion. Also, I don't think we can come up with a cabinet that's only concerned with religious affairs. This would be analogous to legislating religion.

Yessica M said...

I agree with SC, that it would be very easy for those who are not part of this religious group to get their hands on marijuana for their own personal or criminal reasons. We cannot sit here and say that we cannot allow them to use marijuana because it is not our place to decide if it is a necessary practice or duty in their religion. Medical Marijuana Centers have a process that one must go through in order to obtain a card to go into these shops and retrieve marijuana. This is a far shot but what if there was a somewhat similar process for those who are part of this religion to obtain legal marijuana. Again, those who are not in this religion can easily claim it as their own so in order to avoid that maybe have a more restrictive process. Just something that came to mind as a possible solution. By adopting such process, the criminality of marijuana would decrease (possibly not much), the state would have regulation and these religious people would be content with having access to legal marijuana for their religious duties/practices.

Terry B said...

I think the government do not want this pass because of how it will effect society. More people will consider themselves to be apart of this religion that allows them to smoke an illegal substance in public. I have to agree with Maddie, it seems like an excuse for people to just get high. The new religion will violate the law of marijuana as an illegal drug, which will cause a battle between religion and state. I believe the government will try and get rid of this to try and save the greater good of society.