Pubdate: Fri, 28 Feb 2014
Source: Garden Island (Lihue, HI)
Copyright: 2014 The Garden Island
Author: Tom LaVenture
Bookmark: (Spiritual or Sacramental)


Minister of Native American Church Says Religious Rights Prevail

LIHUE - In what members are calling a victory for human rights, a 
narcotics case against the minister of a Native American church who 
uses ceremonial peyote was dismissed Thursday in 5th Circuit Court.

Jesse Shane Johnson, 38, minister for Beauty Way of the Four 
Directions of the Native American Church of Hawaii, said he was happy 
that federal laws to protect religious and ceremonial rights prevailed.

"I have been praying ceaselessly this whole time and trusting in God 
that this would come out right with recognizing the laws that are 
there to protect us," Johnson said.

Chief Judge Randal Valenciano dismissed the case with prejudice. The 
defendant's right to a speedy and public trial were violated for a 
second time and the prosecution cannot bring charges again.

"Given the facts and circumstances, it became apparent that we did 
not have a viable case to move forward with, and we agreed that 
dismissal was appropriate," said County Prosecuting Attorney Justin Kollar.

In court, First Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Kevin Takata said the 
state did not object to dismissing the case as the 180-day limit to 
bring the defendant to trial expired. He asked the court to dismiss 
without prejudice and allow possible charges in the future.

Johnson's attorney, Gregory Meyers, said the case should be dismissed 
with prejudice. He said the defendant is an ordained minister who is 
licensed to practice the ceremonial use of peyote. His rights are 
protected under the First Amendment and U.S. Code Title 42 on 
Traditional Indian religious use of peyote.

The code notes that ceremonial use of peyote by Indians is protected 
by federal regulation as a centuries-old religious sacrament when it 
is integral to a way of life and perpetuates tribes and cultures, he 
said. When 28 states enacted similar protections, Congress acted in 
the interest of uniformity and to ensure a national standard of 
religious practice under the First Amendment.

Hawaii does not have its own protection, Meyers said, but federal law 
clarifies the legal protections for religious use of peyote to avoid 
marginalizing and discrimination of Indian tribes and cultures.

The U.S. Code of Federal Regulations concerning food and drugs lists 
the Native American Church as a special exemption regarding drug 
enforcement. Peyote is a controlled substance but not for nondrug use 
in native religious ceremonies.

In December 2011, Kauai police officers raided Johnson's residence 
and reported peyote cacti and dried byproducts along with processed 
marijuana. Police said the marijuana exceeded Johnson's medicinal 
permit, but did not mention if the peyote was in violation of his 
rights to religious possession.

In May 2013, a felony information complaint was issued and Johnson 
was charged with first-degree promotion of a dangerous drug, unlawful 
use of drug paraphernalia, and second-degree commercial promotion of marijuana.

Being charged as a drug dealer resulted in Johnson's eviction when 
his landlord feared that he would lose his land. His massage therapy 
practice also suffered as clients read news of the arrests.

Eventually, people saw through it and things got back to normal, 
Johnson said. The case was dismissed without prejudice, but a year 
later he was arrested again for mescaline possession after offering a 
prayer at a GMO rally.

It was the same confiscated peyote that was sent to be tested. It 
melted over time and naturally processed into mescaline and something 
they don't do with the church, he said. The church uses fresh peyote 
or will dry it for use as a tea powder.

"For us this was offensive but it was a misunderstanding and I am 
glad it is over with a peaceful resolution," Johnson said

The residence was registered as a church with the Department of 
Public Safety, and Johnson claimed that police violated his charter 
that is recognized by the federal government.

The Department of Public Safety takes Johnson's peyote orders and in 
turn sends them to remaining peyote growers in Texas. It is shipped 
back with a chain of receipts to follow.

Ceremonies continued despite what Johnson said was a police order to 
cease until the investigation was complete. It became a civil and 
human rights matter, he said, and they continue to meet using a 
teepee tabernacle at various locations to perform many ceremonies and 
services that do not always involve peyote.

The confusion came with Hawaii not having its own law protecting 
peyote use, he said. The federal law ensures all states recognize 
protections and a peyote case could be challenged all the way to the 
Supreme Court.

Albert Lopez, president of the church executive organization, said 
they are grateful for the outcome of the case. He said federal and 
state laws prevailed concerning the articles of religious freedom.

"We have been praying for a peaceful resolution from the beginning," 
Lopez said.

Until the decision Thursday, church members were fearful that 
something could happen again, he said. Now there is a feeling of 
unity and a spirit that the community will return to normal.

Lopez said the late Sen. Daniel Inouye is also to thank for 
co-authoring the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in 1993. Inouye 
also wrote the forward to Huston Smith's book, "One Nation Under God, 
the Triumph of the Native American Church."

"The church experienced persecution for decades and (Inouye) was a 
leader who understood the things that we are going through as a 
church," Lopez said. "He understood about us having our medicines and 
keeping our sacraments sacred and not being used in a profane way."

There are hundreds of charters around the United States. The Hawaii 
church started on the Big Island more than 22 years ago. Johnson 
moved to Kauai four years ago but was on the Big Island for over 20 years.

The challenge now is to ensure that all members are protected 
regardless of race or ethnicity, Johnson said. To require blood 
quantum percentiles for protections of native rights is like 
requiring all Buddhists to be Asian.

The third generation would lose their religious and cultural rights 
to medicines and their way of life, he said. It is ultimately genocide.

"This is a freedom of religion issue," he said. "If you want to come 
to a native American church then you should be protected under the 
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom