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Restore Religious Defense
for Entheogen Users
By Richard Glen Boire, Esq.
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.
specifically, RLPA would bar a state or local government from substantially burdening a
persons religious exercise, even if the burden results from a rule of general
applicability, unless the government demonstrates that application of the burden to the
persons religious practice (1) is in furtherance of a compelling governmental
interest; and (2) is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling
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
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.)
Richard Glen Boire, Esq.
is the executive director of the Center for Cognitive Liberty &