Testing the waters of religious freedom

Published 8:32 am Tuesday, July 14, 2015

While our attention was diverted from all the hoopla surrounding the decision made by the “Supreme” beings that it’s just fine for Bill to marry Ted and for Alice and Mary to legally get hitched, we missed all the real excitement up in the Hoosier State.

This headline says it all: Pot-smoking Indianapolis church sues over marijuana laws.

Yep, there’s apparently a church where the collection plate isn’t the only thing that’s passed from member to member.

In a July 8 story crafted by the Associated Press, a pot-smoking church sued the city of Indianapolis and state of Indiana last week, claiming laws against possession and use of marijuana infringe on the religious belief of its parishioners.

And the name of this religious institution is…..wait for it….wait for it…. The First Church of Cannabis.

Members of the church believe that “marijuana is a sacrament that brings us closer to ourselves and others. It is our fountain of health, our love, curing us from illness and depression. We embrace it with our whole heart and spirit, individually and as a group,” as the lawsuit states.

According to an article penned by The Washington Post, The First Church of Cannabis Inc. was approved by Indiana’s Secretary of State after the state’s religious freedom legislation was signed into law in late March.

The church’s founder Bill Levin said he filed paperwork in direct response to Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which was signed into law by Gov. Mike Pence. Secretary of State Connie Lawson approved the church as a religious corporation with the stated intent “to start a church based on love and understanding with compassion for all.”

Levin said the church plans to grow hemp, though it will not buy or sell marijuana.

“If someone is smoking in our church, God bless them,” Levin said in the Post article. “This is a church to show a proper way of life, a loving way to live life. We are called ‘cannataerians.’”

Marijuana is currently illegal in Indiana for both medical and recreational use, thus opening the door for the church to test the application of the new law. RFRA prevents Indiana’s government from “substantially burdening a person’s exercise of religion if it can demonstrate that it is the least restrictive means of furthering a compelling governmental interest.”

In the lawsuit, The First Church of Cannabis says Indiana laws that make possession of marijuana or visiting a place where it is used a punishable offense place a burden on the church’s exercise of religion, violating the state and U.S. constitutions.

“We are taking legal action today to ensure love has no barriers in our land,” Levin said last week. “Today we invite the state of Indiana and all its leaders to joyfully meet us in a court of law for clarifications on our core religious values. We look forward to engaging them on the high plane of dignity and discipline, with love and compassion in our hearts, to find a swift and sensible answer for our questions of religious equality.”

It would have been fitting if the Doobie Brothers showed up for the initial service held July 1. They didn’t, but about 20 Indianapolis police officers were in attendance, joining 100-plus “cannataerians.” None of the parishioners fired up a joint or passed around a bong, especially after city officials promised arrests if marijuana was present.

Levin claims the church has more than 1,000 members and is built “on the cornerstone of love, compassion and good health” and isn’t just a place for its members to get high.

To only thing left to wonder is how many snack machines are in the church?

Cal Bryant is Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. He can be contacted at cal.bryant@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7207. 

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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