The Ten Commandments, crosses and crucifixes, Bibles, and other Christian objects have been at the center of many a religious-liberty case. But if there's one item that has shaped America's religious liberty law in the last decade or so, it's peyote. The hallucinogenic cactus was at the center of Employment Division v. Smith, where a Native American was fired from his job and denied unemployment benefits because he'd chewed it as part of a religious ceremony. The Supreme Court ruled in 1990 that the firing did not infringe on Smith's religious freedom. In response, religious liberty advocates convinced Congress to pass the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which was subsequently ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. Now those two Supreme Court cases are the backbone of current religious freedom law in the U.S.—which Christianity Today columnist Charles Colson and others have argued is a very, very bad thing.
Now another peyote case may once again chip away religious liberty in the country. A Utah district court judge ruled that even though federal law allows Native Americans to use peyote in religious ceremonies (the law was passed after the Supreme Court's anti-RFRA decision), self-styled medicine man Nicholas Stark isn't allowed to do so because he has no proof that he's of American Indian descent. "Clearly, there is a protection for the use of peyote for Native Americans, but Mr. Stark does not come under that protection," Judge Roger Dutson wrote in his decision. Even more brazenly, Deputy Weber County Attorney Richard Parmley had argued in court that the federal law hadn't been intended to protect religious freedom at all, but merely to "preserve ...1
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