Indiana: First Church of Cannabis Approved After 'Religious Freedom' Law Passed
By Steve Elliott
Turning around a new law originally intended as a tool of intolerance against gays, the First Church of Cannabis Inc. has been approved by Indiana's secretary of state after the state's "religious freedom" legislation came into effect last week.
Church founder Bill Levin said he filed the paperwork in direct response to Gov. Mike Pence's signing of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law last Thursday, reports Sarah Pulliam Bailey of The Washington Post. Secretary of State Connie Lawson approved the church as a religious corporation with the stated intent "to start a church based on love and understanding with compassion for all."
Cannabis is listed as a sacrament in the church's doctrine, according to Levin, who set he was setting up a church hierarchy. Levin wrote out the new "Diety Dozen," a list of suggestions for better living comparable to the 10 Commandments.
The church will grow hemp, he said, though it will not buy or sell marijuana.
"If someone is smoking in our church, God bless them," Levin said. "This is a church to show a proper way of life, a loving way to live life. We are called 'Cannataerians.'"
Marijuana is illegal in Indiana for both recreational and medical uses, so the church could test the application of the new RFRA law, which prevents the state government from substantially burdening a person's exercise of religion unless it can demonstrate that it is the least restrictive means of furthering a compelling governmental interest.
Levin said the cannabis church has gotten $2,000 in donations and more than 7,000 Facebook fans in five days. He hopes to build the first church building or temple of hempcrete, which is reinforced with industrial hemp.
"The bibles of other religions are yesteryear about the drinking out of goat skins," Levin said. "That doesn't relate to people with GPS in their hand and 7,000 tunes in that same hand.
"The church is very simple," he said. "The first good book we're going to ask parishioners to read and understand is [Jack Herer's] The Emperor Wears No Clothes."
Levin said he isn't religious. "I'm very faith-driven, I'm very spritual and I'm filled with love," he said. "I find that most religions are misled into gross perversions or what they are meant to be.
"This path has led me to lead a religion that people in today's world can relate to it," he said. "We don't have any guilt doctrine built in. We don't have any sin built in."
One the church is set up, members will be asked to donate $4.20 a month, Levin said.
Indiana lawmakers may have put the state in a position to acknowledge those who use cannabis as a religious sacrament, according to Indiana attorney and political commentator Abdul-Hakim Shabazz.
"You see, if I would argue that under RFRA, as long as you can show that reefer is part of your religious practices, you got a pretty good shot of getting off scott-free," Shabazz wrote. "Remember, under RFRA, the state has to articulate a compelling interest in preventing you from smoking pot. I argue they can't."
The Church of Cannabis will be just one test of many under Indiana's new "religious freedom" law, raising questions about the future of religious freedom and gay rights.
Facebook page: The First Church of Cannabis