Indiana’s First Church of Pot

Be careful what you wish for: A ‘church of cannabis’ is the latest unintended consequence of the right’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act madness.
Hoosiers, get your Hookahs.In the latest Unintended Consequence of the “Religious Freedom” laws now sweeping the country, an Indiana church today was granted tax-exempt status by the IRS. But not just any church: The First Church of Cannabis, which proposes to exploit Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) to smoke pot at its services.According to Bill Levin, self described “Minister of Love and Grand Poobah” of the church, the first service is set for July 1, the day the Indiana RFRA takes effect. “We’re here for love, compassion, understanding, and good health,” Levin toldThe Daily Beast.  “We’re teaching what the original guys originally taught.”Despite the official IRS designation, it’s clear that the Church has a sense of humor. Posted on its Facebook page, the church’s core principles, “The Deity Dozen,” include “Don’t be an asshole” and “Do not be a ‘troll’ on the Internet.” And of course “Cannabis, the ‘healing plant’ is our sacrament.”

Since becoming an Internet sensation, Levin says the Deity Dozen has been translated into a dozen languages.

Alas, from a legal perspective, the First Church’s sense of humor hurts its chances of prevailing in court. Novel “churches” have been trying to use pot and other “sacraments” for decades now, and courts have had no trouble waving them away.

The question is whether RFRA changes the game. And the answer is no.

Underneath all the sound and fury, RFRAs like Indiana’s are actually very specific legal provisions. Technically speaking, what they do is increase the burden on the government to justify any law that impacts religious practice. Specifically, if a law “substantially burdens” the exercise of religion, the government must show that it has a “compelling state interest” and that the law is the “least restrictive means” to address it.


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