This article is from Vol. 1, Issue No. 1 pages 58-59 (Winter 1999/2000)
2000 CENTER FOR COGNITIVE LIBERTY AND ETHICS
All rights reserved worldwide.  ISSN: 1527-3946

 

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Pending Federal Bill Could
Restore Religious Defense
for Entheogen Users

By Richard Glen Boire, Esq.

When the Senate resumes in January 2000, it will be considering a very important bill which has the potential of providing a strong religious defense for entheogen users. If enacted into law, H.R. 1691, the Religious Liberty Protection Act (RLPA) would restore the same stringent legal protection of the Religious Freedom Restoration (RFRA), but in a way that is consistent with U.S. Supreme Court rulings.

More specifically, RLPA would bar a state or local government from substantially burdening a person’s religious exercise, even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability, unless the government demonstrates that application of the burden to the person’s religious practice (1) is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and (2) is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.

In other words, RPLA, if enacted, will re-open the religious defense for entheogen users. A person whose religious practice is substantially burdened by a criminal law outlawing his or her sacrament, would be able to shift the burden on to the government, which would then have to prove that the anti-entheogen law was the least restrictive means of furthering a compelling government interest (usually public health).1

In anticipation of the passage of RLPA, the Center for Cognitive Liberty and Ethics is currently formulating model legislation and legal arguments aimed at demonstrating that there is, indeed, a means of accommodating religious users of entheogens; a means which is less restrictive than wholesale, no exceptions, outlawing of the sacrament. In the event RLPA becomes law, such a demonstration will provide the key argument for sincere religious users of entheogens who seek legal protection for their religious conduct pursuant to RLPA.

RLPA passed the House of Representatives on June 15, 1999, and is now in the Senate. It was referred to the Judiciary Committee on November 19, 1999, and further action is expected on it when the Senate resumes in January 2000.

To follow RLPA, visit the Center for Cognitive Liberty & Ethics website at www.cognitiveliberty.org.

 

Notes

1 The ACLU has registered concern that one danger of RLPA, as currently drafted, is that landlords and employers might refuse to comply with civil rights laws on the grounds that the laws violate their religious beliefs. The ACLU has proposed a drafting change that would explicitly state that RLPA has no effect on state or local civil rights laws. (See, American Civil Liberties Union Statement on H.R. 1691, Religious Liberty Protection Act of 1999, Before the Subcommittee on the Constitution of the House Committee on the Judiciary, presented by Christopher E. Anders, Legislative Counsel, May 12, 1999.)

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Richard Glen Boire, Esq. is the executive director of the Center for Cognitive Liberty & Ethics.