Marijauna 'Church' Could Test Religious Freedom Law 06/28/2016


Vic Ryckaert, The Indianapolis Star
INDIANAPOLIS To some observers, the newly formed First Church of Cannabis appears to be an excuse for potheads to get together and light up.

But the "grand poobah" of what followers describe as a new Indiana religion insists sacramental smoke has sanctity.

"This is what I live by, and I have more faith in this religion than any other," said Bill Levin, the church founder who plans to hold the ministry's first official service July 1 the day Indiana's new Religious Freedom Restoration Act takes effect. "This is my lifestyle. This is millions of people's lifestyle."

Levin, whose church titles include grand poobah and minister of love, is daring police to arrest him and his followers in what likely will be one of the first tests of the state's new religious-freedom protections.

Indiana's Religious Freedom Restoration Act, designed to protect religion from being infringed upon by the government, drew unanticipated attention to state when it became widely viewed as a license to allow business owners to refuse service to same-sex couples.

Under intense public pressure, Indiana lawmakers amended the new law to specify that it can't be used to undermine local human-rights ordinances that protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people from discrimination here and in 10 other cities.

Katz, the Indiana University law professor, said the First Church of Cannabis will have to prove it's a sincere religion, not just an excuse for users to get together and smoke. He doubts Levin will be able to convince a judge that the religion is true.

"If the past is any guide to experience, he's not going to get very far," Katz said. "That's mainly because these people, while they are nice and delightful, are from a legal perspective that I think most judges would view them as goofballs."

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