The following research will investigate whether or not the use of the hallucinogenic plant peyote by Native American children, adults, and members of the Native American Church for religious activities is appropriate and just. I will argue that courts will find that religious use of the peyote plant by the Native American Church is protected under the free exercise of religion clause of the First Amendment.
However, ingestion of this very dangerous hallucinogen has many side effects on the body that become very damaging over time, especially at a young age. Even though families have the last say in what their offspring do and don’t do, drugs are not a matter that should be under that category. By allowing Native Americans and members of the church to ingest peyote, which has the hallucinogenic drug mescaline, we as a society are saying that it is right and just to take drugs and use the First Amendment for protection. The founders of the U.S. Constitution did not create the First Amendment to be abused in this way. Even though Native Americans are an unfortunate minority today and deserve to keep and perform their generations old religious actions; recent studies on hallucinogenic drugs, including mescaline, have found that they are quite dangerous and should be avoided at all costs. All in all, use of peyote looks to be constitutionally protected, but is not sound ground to be treading on.
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There are three sources that have proven themselves to provide the most information for me so far. The American Indian Religious Freedom Act Amendments of 1994 has done quite well. It has given reason to discuss if this amendment is consistent with the religious freedom clause of the First Amendment. The amendment discusses how American Indians have used peyote traditionally in there religious sacraments for many generations. The second source, Peyote Religion, has also proven quite useful. Omer C. Stewart goes into unfathomable detail on the use of peyote by the American Indians, however, the third part of his book, which focuses on the politics and consolidation of the peyote plant have helped out with answering my questions about the legality of peyote ingestion. The third source proven best is the case of Oregon vs. Smith. In reading the majority of this case brief, many questions have come up. Were the defendants Smith and Black convicted at the state level, but not at the federal level because peyote ingestion is protected at the federal level and sometimes not at the state level? Can state laws override constitutional amendments simply because of the importance or severity of the topic?
In reading and dissecting the sources, I have found out some good information that will aid in writing the argumentative paper. I have found that mescaline has a composition similar to the drug ecstasy, which attacks the brain and central nervous system and can ultimately cause brain damage. Mescaline is also illegal to possess in all states, but at least twenty-eight states have enacted laws to protect the ceremonial use of mescaline by American Indians. Since states have laws prohibiting the possession or consumption of controlled substances, and amendments are present that protect mescaline, a controlling substance, it is quite hard to determine whether or not it is legal for American Indians to take their ceremonial substance. The way I understand it, Indians can take it, but not possess it.
All of the information that I have found fits together in a round-about way. For the American Indians, the amendments that discuss and protect religious freedom and their ceremonial use of peyote are consistent with the First Amendment of the Constitution. They alone are protected. If they have jobs that proscribe them not to take peyote, then they have to abide by the rules since it falls under state laws. The Free Exercise of Religion clause protects the right to engage in any religious activity, but also does not relieve an individual of the obligation to comply with a law that incidentally forbids (or requires) the performance of an act that his religious belief requires.
Since all of my information fits together, but still seems a bit cluttered in areas, I will need to dig into what state laws have to say about the religious use of peyote. I think some laws will seem to be inconsistent with the First Amendment, but have reasons for being so. I ultimately have to answer the question if religion supersedes state law or state law supersedes religion.
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