Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Oklevueha Native American Church v. Lynch (9th Cir. - April 6, 2016)

The Ninth Circuit doesn't think much of the new "church" in Hawaii that really, really likes to smoke marijuana.  But instead of resolving whether the church is bona fide, it simply holds today that there's no valid exemption from federal anti-drug laws under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act because the church's doctrine doesn't "require" its members to smoke marijuana, which the church admits is only a substitute for its preferred theological drug, peyote.  So the Ninth Circuit holds there's no "substantial burden" on the plaintiff's exercise of religion since no one's being "coerced" to act in contravention of their religious beliefs.

I'm not sure that this same analysis would necessarily fly if the federal government decided to, say, ban the Eucharist, which I guess isn't technically mandatory either (except maybe during Easter).  I nonetheless get where the Ninth Circuit's coming from.  The church seems bogus; it didn't seem to cross its i's and t's when it threw together its doctrine, so we'll spank it on narrow grounds instead of doing the hard thing like holding that a particular religion is fake.  I get it.

Just recognize that doesn't solve the problem.  All the next person has to do, following the Ninth Circuit's blueprint, is to start a new religion that mandates an occasional Wake-And-Bake in order to commune with God.  Maybe cut-and-paste the canons of the Catholic Church and do a global find-and-replace changing "Eucharist" to "Pot Brownie".  Then see whether the Ninth Circuit can wheedle around things.

But I guess that's Round Two.