Monday, July 22, 2013

Marijuana and the free exercise of religion: The prosecution of Roger Christie

Marijuana, as a mild psychedelic drug, can lead to changes in perception that many people find are spiritually profound. For decades, people around the world have used marijuana as a sacrament. These practices have been organized in some cases as the Ethiopian Zion Coptic Church or the Israel Zion Coptic Church, and its adherents are often colloquially called the Rastafari (Some Rastafari consider the terms "Rastafarian" and "Rastafarianism" to be offensive.)

The New York Times on July 19, 2013 writes about the prosecution of Roger Christie, the founder of The Hawai'i Cannabis (THC) Ministry, in federal court in Hawai'i on charges of marijuana trafficking. Christie has been in federal custody for over three years having been denied bail repeatedly.

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..."

Do we have more religious liberty or less than the residents of the American colonies three hundred years ago? 

In the late 17th century, New Jersey was two provinces, East New Jersey along the west side of the Hudson River and the ocean coast south of New York, and West New Jersey along the east side of the Delaware River and along the Delaware Bay. Much of West New Jersey was settled by Quakers. In 1664, the Concessions and Agreements of West New Jersey, one of the earliest written constitutions in the world, provided a very broad protection for religious liberty.

[Sixth] Item. That no person qualified as aforesaid within the said province at any time shall be anyways molested, punished, disquieted, or called in question for any difference in opinion or practice in matter of religious concernments, who do not actually disturb the civil peace of the said province; but that all and every such person and persons may, from time to time and at all times, freely and fully have and enjoy his and their judgments and consciences in matters of religion throughout the said province, they behaving themselves peaceably and quietly and not using this liberty to licentiousness nor to the civil injury or outward disturbance of others; any law, statute, or clause contained, or to be contained, usage or custom of this realm of England to the contrary thereof in anywise notwithstanding.
 Later in 1676, a Charter and Fundamental Laws of West Jersey provided:


That no men, nor number of men upon earth, hath power or authority to rule over men's consciences in religious matters, therefore it is consented, agreed and ordained, that no person or persons whatsoever within the said Province, at any time or times hereafter, shall be any ways upon any presence whatsoever, called in question, or in the least punished or hurt, either in person, estate, or priviledge, for the sake of his opinion, judgment, faith or worship towards God in matters of religion. But that all and every such person, and persons may from time to time, and at all times, freely and fully have, and enjoy his and their judgments, and the exercises of their consciences in matters of religious worship throughout all the said Province.
This liberty was affirmed again in 1681 in a document quaintly titled, "Province of West New-Jersey, in America, The 25th of the Ninth Month Called November. 1681," entered into by, "the Governor and Proprietors, freeholders and inhabitants of West New Jersey, by mutual consent and agreement, for the prevention of innovasion and oppression, either upon us or our posterity, and for the preservation of the peace and tranquility of the same; and that all may be encourage to go on cheerfully in their several places: We do make and constitute these our agreements to be as fundamentals to us and our posterity:

X. That liberty of conscience in matters of faith and worship towards God, shall be granted to all people within the Province aforesaid; who shall live peaceably and quietly therein; and that none of the free people of the said Province, shall be rendered uncapable of office in respect of their faith and worship.
Pennsylvania was founded by William Penn.

In 1701, William Penn, the proprietor of Pennsylvania, signed a Charter of Privileges that provided great religious liberty to the inhabitants.
That no Person or Persons, inhabiting in this Province or Territories, who shall confess and acknowledge One almighty God, the Creator, Upholder and Ruler of the World; and profess him or themselves obliged to live quietly under the Civil Government, shall be in any Case molested or prejudiced, in his or their Person or Estate, because of his or their conscientious Persuasion or Practice, nor be compelled to frequent or maintain any religious Worship, Place or Ministry, contrary to his or their Mind, or to do or suffer any other Act or Thing, contrary to their religious Persuasion.
 The Liberty Bell of Philadelphia was cast in the 1750s in order to celebrate that Charter of Liberties!

It is inconceivable that Roger Christie or the members of his ministry would have been prosecuted for their use of marijuana in Pennsylvania or West New Jersey in those times. It is outrageous that he and has co-defendants are being prosecuted for using marijuana for religious and spiritual purposes today.

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