Pot Church Invokes New Religious Freedom Law

     INDIANAPOLIS (CN) – Made into law this month with changes to ensure businesses cannot use it to discriminate against gay customers, Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act is now the backbone of a lawsuit against state marijuana restrictions.
     The First Church of Cannabis and its founder Bill Levin, filed the lawsuit in Marion County on Wednesday, hours prior to the church’s second-ever public service.
     Citing Indiana’s new Religious Freedom Restoration Act or RFRA, which took effect on July 1, the church says state marijuana laws place undue burdens on its exercise of religion.
     The lawsuit marks a surprising first test for the embattled law, which sparked national controversy as it hurtled through the Legislature, as many believed it would allow businesses to discriminate against members of the LGBT community.
     After Gov. Mike Pence signed the bill in March, the legislation suffered major backlash from local Indiana businesses such as the website Angie’s List, ultimately leading the state government to add language that supposedly prevents such discrimination.
     Levin’s suit cites the RFRA’s intended purpose of protecting religious freedoms to attack the state’s marijuana statues.
     Specifically, the suit claims that, under a section of the religious bill, the government must demonstrate a compelling interest in placing restrictions on a religious freedom, and that the government must use the least-restrictive means necessary. Indiana has failed in this regard in regulating marijuana use, the church claims.
     “The aforementioned statues have substantially burdened and may substantially burden Plaintiffs’ exercise of religion in that Plaintiffs are in a position to be prosecuted for the described offenses for use of the sacrament of their religion,” the complaint states.
     Legally recognized this past March, the church claims that “the healing plant,” otherwise known as marijuana, is its sacrament.
     The complaint also cites the church’s belief that pot “brings us closer to ourselves and others.”
     “It is our fountain of health, our love, curing us form illness and depression,” the complaint states. “We embrace it with our whole heart and spirit, individually and as a group.”
     The suit lists the state, Gov. Pence, Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard, Attorney General Gregory Zoeller and three law-enforcement officials as defendants.
     Asking the court to prevent the prosecution of religious marijuana use, the church and Levin are represented by attorney Mark Small.

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