The Indianapolis-based Church of Cannabis is giving the New York-based Satanic Temple a run for its money in showing the absurdity of providing all manner of breaks for religious organizations. We already saw that they filed for and were granted tax-exempt status by the IRS. They then filed a lawsuit for the right to use cannabis, using the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) as the basis for their suit.
Their lawsuit has sparked considerable interest about what constitutes a ‘real’ religion and a ‘sincere’ belief and it will be interesting to see how a court of law grapples with such a tricky question.
Some legal experts remain skeptical that the cannabis church’s challenge of Indiana’s marijuana laws will survive for long in front of a judge. But the case focuses on — if a bit unusually — some of the weighty complexities of religious liberty claims and raises lingering questions over how Indiana’s new Religious Freedom Restoration Act can and can’t be used.
“Is this a genuine religion, or is it a pretext?” said Indiana University law professor David Orentlicher. “Because you can imagine, with anyone who’s using a controlled substance, we can’t let them all say, ‘It’s my religion.’ The court has to draw a line somewhere.”
But where do you draw the line and on what basis?
As proof of being a serious religion, the church points to its Southeastside location, rituals such as reciting its “Deity Dozen” and set of tenets circling around love, laughter and cannabis.
But Daniel Conkle, another Indiana University law professor, says the church still has to overcome some hurdles.
“It has to be the case that it is the religious belief — not something else — that is motivating the use of marijuana,” Conkle said.
It can’t be a campaign against RFRA, he said. It can’t be just because people like to smoke weed.
If the church makes it past that test — according to Orentlicher, it’s unlikely; according to Conkle, it would be difficult but “not inconceivable” — the government could still prevail by proving a compelling interest in enforcing laws that consider cannabis an illegal drug.
RFRA has created religious exemptions for drug use before: The federal RFRA originated from a case of Native Americans wanting to use peyote for religious ceremonies. Another federal RFRA case allowed a small religious group from Brazil to use a sacramental tea that contained an illegal hallucinogenic substance.
But marijuana, Conkle said, is a different situation because of the potential for recreational users to try to exploit the religious angle.
But ‘exploiting the religious angle’ is what religions do, isn’t it?