We have seen how religious individuals and groups are using the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and state versions of it to try and avoid complying with laws that they feel infringe on their religious beliefs, such as issuing same-sex marriage licenses or providing contraceptive benefits in health insurance polices or selling various goods and services to the public.
Now the First Church of Cannabis has filed a lawsuit against the state of Indiana and city of Indianapolis under RFRA “challenging state laws on possession and use of marijuana as infringing upon religious beliefs.”
By filing its highly anticipated religious liberty claim Wednesday, the First Church of Cannabis has put the question everyone’s been wondering about in the hands of the court:
Is this a real religion?
And does it have a protected right to practice legitimate beliefs?
That is the core problem with the RFRA exemptions. You have to start getting into messy questions of what constitutes a real religion and what makes a genuine belief. After all, it could be reasonably argued that there can be only on true religion. Since they all make claims that are mutually exclusive, they cannot all be true. Or is it the case that believing in a false religion is acceptable as long as the belief is genuine, i.e., the poor saps are truly deluded?
I wrote last month how the founder of this church Bill Levin had earlier filed and obtained tax-exempt status for his church. He has now taken the next step with this lawsuit, seeing how far he can push the RFRA law.
Giving special deference and privileges to religious beliefs that enable people to exempt themselves from the laws that the rest of us must abide by invites this kind of endless litigation because of the difficulty of creating demarcation criteria that can distinguish religion from non-religion, not to mention the added complication of whether someone is a genuine believer or not.