Thursday, July 23, 2009

Are Mind-Altering Drugs Constitutionally Protected?

The history of the United States Government has been somewhat checked when it comes to Native Americans, or "Indians" as they were called in early America. We suffer a lot of guilt today because the way settlers drove Indians off their land. After all, they were here first, right? (Of course, we don't very often discuss the possibility that many of the tribes we drove off had in fact taken the land on which they were living from other tribes.) Some more recent laws have gone "the extra mile" to give special consideration to those whose ancestors inhabited this country before it was this country.

Native Americans today have a sort of dual citizenship. They are citizens of the U.S. but they also may be living on sovereign land within the U.S. borders. That is one reason they are able to run casinos where they would otherwise be prohibited by state law.

You may have heard about the controversy over the use of the illegal substance peyote as part of the Native American religious practice or rituals. Our state and local governments have trouble dealing with this issue. For that matter, so do I.

Our Constitution guarantees freedom of religion. If peyote is a genuine part of Native American religious practice, does the Constitution protect that at the expense of other laws? The LDS/Mormon religion wished to keep the practice of multiple wives for one husband, but our law overrode that practice. Is that OK?

The courts have held since a long time ago that some religious practices could be limited. The common example is human sacrifice. That would clearly be a problem!

So what do we think about Native Americans using peyote? Is that something we should allow as part of their religion? Should we allow it because they could use peyote on their sovereign land? Since neither of those factors would forgive human sacrifice, then might we allow peyote because of historic wrongs committed against the Native Americans by our government?

The picture to the left is Comanche Quanah Parker, founder of the Native American Church, 1880's. This is from the National Archives (courtesy of the Denver Public Library). You find this on a page titled "Document Rights Section III - Late in Coming." It discusses the Native American's national religious organization. Included are some historic documents.

So what do you think of this issue? Comments are welcome.

Read more at the National Archives Website

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