Just a few quick news notes for you on this Tuesday.
Margot Alder on Witchcraft, Cults, and Space Travel: Margot Adler, NPR correspondent and author of the seminal 1979 book “Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers, and Other Pagans in America”, talks to the Daily Camera in Boulder, Colorado about her life and work in advance of her presentations at the 64th Annual Conference on World Affairs. Of special interest to my Pagan readers will be the story of how she landed the book deal that eventually lead to “Drawing Down the Moon.”
“That happened by a complete fluke, way back in 1974. I had sort of a loser boyfriend. He took me to meet his literary agent in a pub. The woman asked me, ‘What do you do?’ I’ve probably had less than a dozen psychic experiences, but I heard a voice in my head say, ‘You are standing on a nexus point in the universe. What you do now will change your life forever.’ Because of that voice, I said, ‘I’m involved in witchcraft.’ Her eyes got really big. She said, ‘Call me in two weeks.’ She had just left an agency and was looking for clients. She showed me how to write a book proposal. I’d never thought of writing a book. The written word scared me because it’s so eternal.”
She also talks about where she agrees with Newt Gingrich (space travel), the most interesting stories she’s been covering for NPR lately, and “looking at religion from completely outside ourselves.” The Conference on World Affairs is currently underway, and continues through Friday. Her two presentations are “What is a Cult,” and “The Lure of Interstellar Travel,” both being given today.
A Step Forward for Marijuana as a Sacrament: In what could a groundbreaking ruling, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has overturned a lower court ruling against the Oklevueha Native American Church of Hawaii, allowing an action to prevent enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act against them to go forward.
“Plaintiffs need not allege a threat of future prosecution because the statute has already been enforced against them. When the Government seized Plaintiffs’ marijuana pursuant to the CSA, a definite and concrete dispute regarding the lawfulness of that seizure came into existence.”
The court also ruled that the church does not need to apply to the DEA first for an exemption, though it did rule in the government’s favor by saying the seized marijuana doesn’t have to be returned or compensated for. You can read more about this case, here, and here. So far, there have been only two instances where entheogens used in a religious context have been able to win legal protection (peyote for Native American ceremonial purposes, and ayahuasca by the União do Vegetal). If the Oklevueha Native American Church (ONAC) is able to take this to the Supreme Court and win a religious exemption, and injunction against future prosecution, it could throw open the door to religious groups using marijuana as a sacrament. The Rastafari are an obvious example, but any group that is able to show a sincere use may also be able win exemptions. In my mind, legal entheogens are an inevitable eventuality of these cases, the question is not “if” but “when.”
How Far Does Free Speech and Religious Freedom Stretch in Cases of Alleged Fraud? Speaking of possibly momentous instances of litigation, last year several members of the Roma Gypsy Marks family were charged by the federal government with operating an “advance fee scheme,” allegedly bilking more than a dozen victims out of over 40 million dollars. One of the clients/victims was famous romance author Jude Deveraux, who paid the family $20 million over 17 years, saying she was threatened by the family, and was near suicide before law enforcement stepped in. Now, the Marks’ defense team is saying their actions were/are protected religious practices, and that fortune-telling is protected speech.
“Lawyers have argued in court papers that the family members had a constitutionally protected right to practice fortunetelling and spiritual healing because it is a part of their religious belief system and fortunetelling is legally considered to be free speech. […] Attorney Michael Gottlieb, who wrote the 24-page legal document about religious rights, argued that his client, Nancy Marks, 42, of Fort Lauderdale and New York City, did nothing but try to help people, in line with her personal spiritual beliefs. […] “Nancy Marks’ conduct is rooted in her religion and spirituality,” Gottlieb wrote. “Based upon this prosecution, the defendant has lost her livelihood and has been unable to make a living using her historical religious and spiritual gifts.” […] The legal argument spells out some widely-held Romani beliefs but also draws comparisons with legal rulings about the rights of people who are Amish, Wiccans, Krishnas, Mormons, Catholics and Jews.”
Leaving aside the issue of the Marks’ guilt or innocence, the ultimate verdict in this case could have far-sweeping ramifications, especially if judges consider the religion question. Whether or not fortune telling can be a protected religious practice is still very much up in air, judicially speaking. In 2010 the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled that fortune telling and related services are protected speech, and in 2008 a federal judge tossed out a fortune telling ban in Livingston Parish, Louisiana. However, in a 2011 case, a Virginia judge ruled that divination wasn’t the same thing as religious counselling. The case here, involving the federal government, could set nationwide precedent for where the line gets drawn between exploitation and religious freedom. So this is one to keep your eyes on. For more on the extended Marks clan, check out the documentary “American Gypsy.”
That’s all I have for now, have a great day!