Too Wacky to Be a Religion?

Last week a federal judge in New Mexico rejected an Arizona couple's claim that their possession, use, and distribution of marijuana is protected by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Dan and Mary Quaintance, who were picked up in February near Lordsburg, New Mexico, with 172 pounds of pot, are the founders of the Pima-based Church of Cognizance, which follows this credo: "With good thoughts, good words, and good deeds, we honor Marijuana...as the teacher, the provider, the protector." Last summer I predicted the Quaintances' RFRA defense would not fare well because marijuana is so popular that the idea of allowing members of their church to use it arouses plausible fears of diversion and of proliferating RFRA claims from suddenly religious pot smokers. Given that prospect, I thought, punishing the Quaintances (who face up to 40 years in prison) could easily be deemed the "least restrictive means" of serving a "compelling state interest," as RFRA requires for laws that impinge on religious freedom. But U.S. District Judge Judith Herrera did not even get that far, instead deciding that the Quaintances' neo-Zoroastrian faith is phony, a cover for smoking and selling pot. "Defendants cannot avoid prosecution for illegal conduct simply by transforming their lifestyle choices into a 'religion,'" she wrote.

Although some church members may just be in it for the pot, the Quaintances, whose trial is scheduled to begin on January 16, seem pretty sincere to me. They've been open about their religion since founding it in 1991, filing a "declaration of religious sentiment" with the Graham County Recorder's Office, maintaining a Web site, and issuing certificates to the "couriers" who distribute marijuana to the church's members. If all they wanted to do was smoke and sell pot, they've gone out of their way to call attention to themselves for no apparent reason. As for the quantities involved, 172 pounds, assuming it was a year's supply, amounts to a couple of joints per day for each member in Arizona (the Quaintances say there are about 50 in the state), which is not out of bounds for religious use, to judge by the Rastafarians.

But perhaps Judge Herrera means that even if the Quaintances are sincere, what they call a religion is not really a religion. (I have not been able to get a copy of her opinion yet, so I can't say for sure.) In a widely cited 1996 case, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, which includes New Mexico, relied on the distinction between true religions and mere "lifestyles" to reject a RFRA claim by a Church of Marijuana minister whose sincerity it did not question. The 10th Circuit endorsed the district court's reliance on the "indicia" that characterize real religions, including "metaphysical beliefs," "important writings," prophets, rituals, holidays, and special clothing. (It also repeated the lower court's caveat that "no one of these factors is dispositive.") This sort of official inquisition into people's deeply held beliefs hardly seems consistent with the ostensible goal of protecting religious freedom, especially when the penalty for having the wrong beliefs is a 40-year prison sentence.

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  • Guy Montag||

    Yes, another opportunity to point out: now that lobbiests have been outlawed, the cotton lobby can no longer keep pot illegal.

    I predict these folks will be the first released by special legeslation from the new Congress.

  • ||

    The US gvt has for a very long time taken liberties with 'freedom of religion' and what constitues religious activity, just ask polygamists, David Koresh, the native americans and the custom of smoking peyote, faith based healers, etc. etc.

    If the gvt. deems your religious activities/customs are a risk to you, your family, or thier law, then its not a religious activity PEROID.

    You have to remember, we are a nation under GOD, or rather the GOD defined by the majority.

  • ||

    "including "metaphysical beliefs," "important writings," prophets, rituals, holidays, and special clothing"

    All right: the Church of Nathan is hereby incorperated. We beleive in Bachuss as giver of fun and freedom from assholes. We also beleive that Jesus was way cool. We revere "Leaves of Grass" and the entire Beatles discografy, and consider their authors to be profets. Every june 2nd we get together in a pine forest and drink ourselves blind to honor our god. and we wear funny hats, like, all the time. I demand tax exempt status and legal weed.

    Tell me its sillier than Catholiscism.

  • ||

    oh, and we never use "ph" to signify the "f" sound, as it is an abomination unto our lord Bachuss.

  • ||

    citizengnat | January 5, 2007, 4:12pm

    Good save.

  • ||

    thanx :-)

  • ||

    The govt is punishing people for posibly hurting them selves? No Way...

    Seatbelt laws....
    Helmet laws...
    Every-fucking-law created "FOR THE CHILDREN"

    I watched Pelosi yesterday with all the kids. I am now very worried...

    (people with "for the kids" mentalities) seem to fuck EVERYBODY else for the fucking kids...

    Why should anyone's liberty be sacrificed just because there happens to be another generation coming up?

  • Geoff Nathan||

    All right: the Church of Nathan is hereby incorperated. We beleive in Bachuss as giver of fun and freedom from assholes. We also beleive that Jesus was way cool. We revere "Leaves of Grass" and the entire Beatles discografy, and consider their authors to be profets. Every june 2nd we get together in a pine forest and drink ourselves blind to honor our god. and we wear funny hats, like, all the time. I demand tax exempt status and legal weed.

    Tell me its sillier than Catholiscism. [sic]


    Wait a minute--where do you get off telling me what this religion is--I oughta know, doncha think?
    My sacraments involve a good white wine, roast duck and dense chocolate cake. No hats. Sorry. Also, we spell some things a little differently. ;-)

  • ||

    I'll join both your churches, Nathans.

  • Timothy||

    And yet Scientology keeps its tax-exempt status. Wonders never cease.

  • ||

    Splitter!!

  • ||

    This sort of official inquisition into people's deeply held beliefs hardly seems consistent with the ostensible goal of protecting religious freedom, especially when the penalty for having the wrong beliefs is a 40-year prison sentence.
    -----------

    The penalty for *having* the beliefs is zilch. The penalty for *acting* on them is 40 years.

  • ||

    Perhaps it is time for reconciliation between our sects, Mr. Nathan. You bring the wine and duck, I'll bring the peace pipe

  • ||

    But you should reconsider about the hats. Every respectable religion needs funny hats.

  • ||

    Timothy | January 5, 2007, 4:34pm | #
    And yet Scientology keeps its tax-exempt status. Wonders never cease.
    ======
    What needs to happen is to have that electromagnetic contraption they use be declared a medical instrument and strictly controlled under the FDA, with all attendant regulations, compliance requirements, fines, etc., being in force. Of course, the church would have to sue for relief under the First Amendment, or maybe they would participate in civil disobedience and be arrested under the law. Either way, the US vs. Church of Scientology is a smackdown I'd love to watch, and maybe Tom Cruise, John Travolta, Isaac Hayes, and the gang could use their awesome celebrity powers to strike an effective blow for everyone's freedom. We could at least express genuine gratitude and respect to them for THAT.

  • ||

    "With good thoughts, good words, and good deeds, we honor Marijuana...as the teacher, the provider, the protector."

    Sounds Zoroastrian to me.

    There's still a lot of debate as to what haoma was--although last I heard recent digs uncovered a complete haoma ceremony chamber, which some hoped might contain some remainder of the substance.

    ...but I can see how someone so moved might substitute marijuana for that substance. Although I'd think they'd want to add some kind of stimulant.

    But why is the state involved in determining the sincerity of a person's religious convictions anyway? Besides, maybe they're doin' some good. ...with global warming such a problem, we need all the asha we can get!

  • ||

    "My sacraments involve a good white wine, roast duck and dense chocolate cake. No hats."

    Those who like hats have started a schismatic branch "The Reformed Hatted Church of Nathan."

  • Gene Berkman||

    The court relies on 'the "indicia" that characterize real religions...'

    Well don't the Quaintances have some Cannabis Indicia for their "cult."?

  • Paul||

    Uhm, they were in Lordsburg fer chrissakes. At this point, 40 years in prison would be a step up.

    Just sayin'.

  • ||

    What needs to happen is to have that electromagnetic contraption they use be declared a medical instrument and strictly controlled under the FDA, with all attendant regulations, compliance requirements, fines, etc., being in force. - JAM



    That's exactly what happened in the early days of "Dianetics". Hubbard's "Dianetic auditing" with "E-meters" was put under scrutiny by state and federal regulators, which is one of the reasons for the name change to Scientology and organization into a church.

    The US Food & Drug Administration raided Scientology on January 4, 1963 and seized hundreds of E-meters as illegal medical devices. The incident is described in Jon Atack's book, A Piece of Blue Sky, and in this essay by Stephen Barrett, M.D. Since that time, meters have been required to carry a disclaimer stating that they are purely a religious artifact. This appellate court decision describes the trial and the various witnesses who appeared. - Secrets of Scientology



    Kevin

  • ||

    Wow - that may have set a record for 'least time to schism.' You fellows need to have an ecumenical council now, and if that fails to patch up your differences (perhaps hair and hats could be considered under the umbrella of 'head covering' - two expressions of one nature), then the first one to convert a state sponsor gets to the burn the other for the gross indecency of thier beliefs. Cheers!

  • creech||

    I think the religious freedom distinction should hinge on whether or not the acts of church members "following their religion" are self-victimizing or not. So the "Church of Social Justice" member who invades a bank and
    scourges the currency exchange manager is going
    to be arrested for assault. The member has no right to claim immunity because he was merely following what Jesus "told" him to do.

  • ||

    how does the government deciding what is or isn't a real religion not stomp all over the establishment clause?

  • ||

    Although some church members may just be in it for the pot,

    I'm in Christianity just for the free wine and crackers.

  • ||

    And I'm a Jew for the world domination.

  • oncogenesis||

    biologist: how does the government deciding what is or isn't a real religion not stomp all over the establishment clause?

    It does, of course. As does the IRS deciding what is and is not a real religion for tax purposes. The Constitution is just so 200 years ago.

  • ||

    I am a stupid, android slave to the evil Word Animal Singularity Brotherhood.

    I am a little sad that site's gotten angrier and nastier the last few years. Gene Ray is getting on in years and rather bitter with age...

  • ||

    "The only difference between a cult and a religion is 500 years."

  • ||

    oncogenesis:

    which is why the IRS shouldn't. neither religious groups nor non-profits should be exempt from taxes under our current tax scheme.

  • ||

    Who's this Ray k00k? Rond Vidar will have invented the Time Cube in 2978 C.E.

    Kevin

  • ||

    A few thoughts:

    1)If I had to guess, I'd say that whether or not the govt recognizes a religion as legit or not depends almost entirely on the size and wealth (aka ability to hire teams of lawyers) said religion posesses. Just out of curiosity, does anyone know of any religions founded lately that did not just happen to include practices that would be illegal otherwise? Does the govt list those (assuming there are any) as legit automatically, or do new religions that do not include taking illegal drugs/polygamy/underage sex/protecting huge sums of money from the taxman face the same challenges as the Church of Geting Stoned and Calling it Religion So You Don't Get Busted?

    2) I'm all in favor of drug legalization. That being said, making up religions to try to get away with it isn't helping things. Neither is talking about all the great fiber products you can make with "Hemp". You aren't fooling anyone, hippie. Everybody knows you're not into weed for the fucking rope. Wrapping it up in bullshit only feeds your opponent's belief that he has the moral high ground because you won't even argue against him directly, you're pretending to do something else.

    3) With regards to "For the children", as it relates to any issue/law, isn't it about time someone points out that we were all "the children" once, "the children" will be adults eventually, and damaging our freedoms damages theirs as well? This reminds me of my favorite argument lefties make about how great Communism is in Cuba: "The schools produce a great literacy rate!". Uh huh, that will come in handy for all the books/newspapers/web pages they aren't allowed to read when they grow up.

  • Godfrey||

    "...the penalty for having the wrong beliefs is a 40-year prison sentence."

    Is there a prison large enough for all of Christendom?

  • ||

    "The Reformed Hatted Church of Nathan."

    Great. The Church of the Nathans has existed for less than a day and already it's headed toward bloody internecine slaughter. But I suppose it wouldn't qualify as a religion if it didn't inspire murderous glee in its adherents.

    Call me a heathen but I think the real hope for mankind is Fictionology as put forth in the book Imaginetics by Bud Don Ellroy.

  • ||

    I thought religions were supposed to be kooky.

    Jesus Christ was born to a virgin, walked on water, and rose from the dead... Nah, that's not kooky at all.

  • Guy Montag||

    jb,

    I thought I was Juish, but finally figured out that I must be Scottish.

  • Guy Montag||

    ACK! Make that "Jewish"

    Wasn't the misspelling/typo discussion yesterday?

  • ||

    We revere "Leaves of Grass"

    That's it. Drop the Walt Whitman, or the Church of Shementology is Phatwaing your ass.

  • ||

    And I'm a Jew for the world domination.

    Does jb win this thread, or what?

  • Karl the Lbertarian||

    The Supreme Court has ruled that you can't claim protection under freedom of religion if the religion is a sham religion.

  • ||

    Well, it's not any loopier than scientology or whatever that Ted Haggard character was spewing, IMHO.

    -jcr

  • ||

    Biggist sham in social engineering history: CHRISTIANITY.

    Please revoke religous status now...

    End of line.

  • ||

    "Biggist" my post sites a 10:16am time. However it is only 6:16am in Juneau Ak. Sorry.

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