Pubdate: Thu, 05 Aug 2010
Source: Toronto Sun (CN ON)
Copyright: 2010 Canoe Limited Partnership
Author: Michele Mandel


Hard To Have Faith In A 'church' That Promotes Sale And Use Of

Behold the Church of the Gerbil, where the Ten Condiments command that
you shall be fuzzy at all times and listen to The Chipmunk Song until
the chinchillas come home.

Call us sacrilegious, but we find it hard to take a "religion"
seriously when it not only promotes the use and sale of pot and gives
membership cards to dogs, but also claims the Church of the Gerbil as
an affiliate.

But the Church of the Universe does all of that and still insists it's
a bona fide religion that deserves an exemption under the Charter of
Rights that would let members practise their beliefs by legally
puffing away.

Brothers Peter Styrsky and Sharooz Kharaghani are the minister-members
of the G-13 Mission ofGod, a branch of the Hamilton-based Church of
the Universe, which believes weed is a religious sacrament, or "the
tree of life" as they call it.

But talk about your downer. Both men were charged with trafficking in
2006 after they allegedly sold marijuana to two undercover cops who
infiltrated their church.

With the patience of Job, the Brothers have been in court for months
now arguing that Ontario Superior Court Justice Thea Herman should
throw out the charges because Canada's pot laws violate their freedom
of religion.

With closing arguments finally underway, the judge is in the
unenviable position of deciding "what is a religion?" Not even Solomon
had it this tough.

The defence has contended that religion is relative - it's whatever an
individual determines for himself.

So if these beatific guys in the hemp beanies say pot brings them
closer to a supreme being, it's not the role of the federal government
to question their beliefs.

But federal Crowns Nicholas Devlin and Donna Polgar of the Public
Prosecution Service of Canada argue that, under the charter at least,
religion isn't whatever someone says it is and it's certainly not a
"church" created to try to get around marijuana laws.

"It cheapens and demeans freedom of religion to extend this right,
enshrined to shield those who have suffered many of the most vicious
acts of intolerance and oppression throughout history, to lifestyle
choices, which even (they) don't take seriously," they wrote in their
closing submission.

TheCrowns questioned everything about the church, from its lack of
theology andworship practices to its secular website and single point
of belief.

Nor did they buy Styrsky's sincere belief in weed as a religious

Instead, they described him as "an intelligent man who found a way to
transform his affinity for marijuana into a booming business that
could both cure his financialwoes and end hisworklife tedium."

As for his church, it has 2,000 members who can sign up online and
includes two German shepherds and four "alarmingly young-looking
teenagers" as members.

And rather than a sacred house of worship, the federal prosecutors say
the Beaches "church" looked like a secular drug shop and smoking den
covered with Trailer Park Boys and other stoner culture posters.

"It looked to the world like a business," Devlin told the court. "It
looked like a cannabis commun i t y c e n - tre with a store attached."

So is it really a re l igion or just an inside joke dreamed up by a
couple of Cheech and Chong frat boys with the same kind of sense of
humour that created the almighty Church of the Gerbil?

The faith dedicated to the furry rodent can be found on the Church of
the Universe's website ( under affiliate "missions."

While it's obviously a parody, Brother Kharaghani testified that they
had every right to call themselves a genuine church as well.

"This could be a serious expression of religion?" he was

"It could be. It could be ... " Kharaghani replied.

So, do they get charter protection as well?

That's about as ridiculous as calling a pot club a

"If freedom of religion is everything, then it's nothing," the Crown
told the court. "If we extend the freedom of religion to the Church of
the Gerbil, then we have killed the right." 
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