Still Burning

Still Burning
Posted by CN Staff on April 19, 2007 at 11:44:54 PT
By Sean J. Miller
Source: Cityview 
Iowa -- Carl Olsen is the last member of the Ethiopian Zion Coptic Church. The church, which blends Christianity with ceremonial marijuana smoking, had thousands of members in the '70s and early '80s, Olsen says."The members would get together and smoke marijuana. It causes an intensification of the spirit. It causes a deeper understanding between people, and when you put that into a group setting it's magnified," Olsen says. "Everyone thought we were protected by religious freedom."
The federal government didn't see it that way and arrested many of the church's members, including Olsen, he says. The raids on church property and the jailing of its members caused it to break up."You are looking at the Ethiopian Zion Coptic Church, it's me," says Olsen, 55, during an interview at his home in northeast Des Moines. "There's no one else claiming to be a member."Olsen, who works as a Web site designer, is hoping to change that. In January, he filed a lawsuit against the Polk County Attorney, the Iowa Attorney General and the Drug Enforcement Agency. The suit, called a complaint for injunction, seeks an exemption from the state and federal drug laws so as to allow Olsen to participate in his church's marijuana smoking ceremony.Olsen's church, which is incorporated in Iowa, is not the first to seek an exemption for the religious use of a drug.The most well-known case involving religious use of drugs is the 1990 U.S. Supreme Court case Employment Division of Oregon v. Smith, says Randall Bezanson, a University of Iowa law professor and author of "How Free Can Religion Be?""It had to do with a Native American church that had the religious practice of using peyote."Peyote, a hallucinogenic drug, is a controlled substance under state and federal law. The Native American church challenged the law, arguing they should have an exemption to use peyote in religious ceremonies under controlled circumstances."It was argued in the Smith case, and the Supreme Court didn't dispute it, that there had never been any problems with the [church's] controlled use [of peyote]," he says. "But it never made a difference."In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that "the First Amendment doesn't exempt religion from generally applicable law," Bezanson says.Congress reacted quickly to the Supreme Court's decision. It passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in 1993, granting a federal exemption for the use of peyote in religious ceremonies. Still, the Smith ruling makes it extremely difficult to make a successful legal argument in favor of using illegal drugs during religious services, Bezanson says. Under the Smith ruling Olsen "has relatively little chance. If there was a law that singled out his church, then he'd probably have a claim." But a more recent court decision could make it easier for Olsen to get an exemption.The Supreme Court ruling in the case Gonzales v. O Centro Espirita Beneficiente Uniao Do Vegetal, et al., in February 2006 gave Olsen hope, he says. Uniao Do Vegetal is a South American group that blends Christian teachings with Native American rituals. Its members drink hoasca tea, which contains the hallucinogenic dimethyltryptamine, during religious ceremonies.The Supreme Court ruled 8-0 that the government did not have a compelling interest to bar the sacramental use of the tea -- even though, like marijuana and peyote, it is on the government's list of controlled substances. "It reverses every single ruling," Olsen says. "Now, I'm filing a suit that says 'I want that [exemption].'"Olsen says he hasn't been able to practice his religion, and hasn't smoked marijuana since the Supreme Court's 1990 ruling in the Smith case."My case is saying look at my religious involvement in the past and look at it now," he says. "The reason [the church] doesn't have any members is because they're interfering with my religious freedom. How can you belong to something you can't participate in?"If Olsen's suit is successful, he says he would attempt to reestablish his church. "I would do what comes naturally, if I had my liberties," he says. Note: A Des Moines Man Is Fighting for the Right to Use Marijuana in Religious Services.Source: Cityview (Des Moines, IA)Author: Sean J. MillerPublished: April 19, 2007Copyright: 2007 Big Green Umbrella Media, Inc.Contact: editor dmcityview.comWebsite: -- Cannabis Archives
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Comment #3 posted by BGreen on April 19, 2007 at 14:57:53 PT
Some churches use wine and some grape juice
I know for a fact that some churches not only use alcoholic wine, they also allow children to partake of this alcohol as a sacrament, obviously in direct defiance of current laws forbidding those under 21 from consuming alcohol.In other words, the precedent has been firmly set in place that "illegal" substances CAN be used as a religious sacrament, even if the current man-made laws forbid the use of such substances.The Reverend Bud Green
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Comment #2 posted by RevRayGreen on April 19, 2007 at 14:42:52 PT
Praise Brother Carl
Now Carl, I thought I told you I would like to join.
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Comment #1 posted by Sam Adams on April 19, 2007 at 13:47:07 PT
It's seems complicated but it's quite simple. You're free to practice your religion, unmolested, no matter what. Unless it's a religion the government doesn't like. Or anything that involves cannabis. Or peyote. But it's a free country! Really. As long as the Pope says it's OK, you're free to practice ANY religion of YOUR choice.Doublethink in action again.
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