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about the case
Utah High Court OKs
Non-Indian Peyote Use
By DEBBIE HUMMEL
The Associated Press
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - The Utah Supreme Court ruled
Tuesday that non-American Indian members of the Native American Church can
use peyote in religious ceremonies.
In a unanimous decision, the court found in favor
of a couple charged in 2000 with drug distribution for providing peyote to
members and visitors at their church in Benjamin, about 50 miles southwest
of Salt Lake City. Officers confiscated about 12,000 peyote buttons from
the six-acre complex that serves as home to the Oklevueha Earthwalks
Native American Church.
James and Linda Mooney were charged with more than
10 first-degree felony counts of operating a controlled-substance criminal
enterprise and one second-degree count of racketeering. They were never
tried, and Tuesday's ruling stemmed from a defense request to dismiss the
Federal law allows tribal Indians and members of
the Native American Church to use peyote in religious ceremonies. The
Mooneys' church is affiliated with the Native American Church, though they
are not members of a federally recognized tribe. Attorneys for the state
argued there is no exception in state law for the use of peyote by Indians
and said that even if the court ruled there was such an exception, it
could not be extended to cover non-Indians.
The high court ruled that state law incorporates
the federal regulation but does not specify a restriction on peyote use
only by members of federally recognized tribes. Use of the hallucinogenic
drug is limited to bona fide religious ceremonies as part of the Native
American Church, Justice Jill Parrish wrote.
The court also said that permitting the exemption
for some church members and not others would violate the equal-protection
clause in the United States Constitution.
James Mooney said in a statement released by his
attorney that the decision ``will help to preserve the religious diversity
on which our nation and this state were founded.''
Assistant Attorney General Kris Leonard said her
office had not fully reviewed the opinion.