“This decision isn’t a decision for us or against us.” contends Marc Perkel, founder of the Church of Reality. “This decision is no decision at all.”
In 2006 the Supreme Court made a landmark decision in the case of Gonzales v. O Centro Espirita Beneficente Uniao do Vegetal (the UDV case) where the court decided the religious rights trumps Schedule 1 drugs and asserts the “Strict Scrutiny” standard in dealing with claims under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). Shortly after this decision was made Marc Perkel representing the Church of Reality applied to the DEA on March 24th 2006 for an exemption for marijuana use for church members claiming that the facts of the Church of Reality were virtually identical to what the Supreme Court already decided.
11 months later the DEA agreed that the Church of Reality might have the right to use marijuana if it met the requirements set out by the court and sent a few letters asking questions about the Church of Reality’s religious practices. In October 1st 2008 the DEA denied the church’s request for exemption in a 33 page decision. The Church of Reality appealed the DEA’s decision to the Ninth Circuit.
This case is the first case to make it to the appellate court level since the UDV case of 2006 when the Supreme Court determined religions has a Fisrt Amendment right to use Schedule 1 drugs making this a case of first impression.
Because this is a “strict scrutiny” case and because it is a case of first impression the Ninth Circuit has a higher standard of review than with most cases. Perkel, founder of the Church of Reality contends that a court can not determine a case like this with an unpublished memorandum decision that’s 2 paragraphs long. Perkel contends that in a strict scrutiny case that the court has to at least mention scrict scrutiny and recite the strict scrutiny standard. That without doing that that the decision doesn’t rise to the level of being a decision.
“What happen here I believe”, says perkel, “is that this case was never actually read by a judge. I think that a law clerk with instructions to cull the pile and reduce the case backlog wrote this decision and represented it as the decision of the 3 judge panel. I think that because I am representing myself and because I’m not a lawyer that the court thought they could pull a fast one on me and that I wasn’t smart enough to catch it. What the Ninth Circuit doesn’t understand is that there are non lawyers who also understand the law.”
This is not a case about drugs. This is a case about religion. The UDV case that the Supreme Court decided in 2006 was about drugs, and drugs won. This is the first case since the UDV case was decided to get this far through the system. This case is about religion. What defines a religion? Can a religion that is based on believing in everything that is real be a religion?
Many people might be asking, “What is the connection of a reality based religion to marijuana?”
First – the idea for the Church of Reality itself was a marijuana inspired idea. On November 7th 1998 Marc Perkel, founder of the Church of Reality was ast home smoking a joint and thinking about religion. He was wondering about the idea of the “one true religion” if there were such a thing. How would one determine what that religion would look like? “Well,” he thought, “the one true religion would believe in everything that was real.” Then the name “Church of Reality” came to mind. Was there such a thing?
The next day he did a web search (Yahoo) and there was no church of reality so he registered the domain name and the Church of Reality was born.
Not only was the idea marijuana inspired, but most of the church doctrine was written while stoned. “We don’t see ourselves as a drug based religion.” says Perkel. “However without marijuana there would be no Church of Reality and 3/4 of the church doctrine would not have been written. The inconvenient truth is, marijuana works. Marijuana actually does give the mind superior creative powers. But the Church of Reality itself isn’t about marijuana, it’s about reality. Marijuana is just a tool that helps me figure out how to get to reality, as strange as that might sound.”
Perkel uses marijuana for a variety of drug inspired ideas other than just his Church of Reality. Perkel has written hundreds of letters to the editor and has been published thousands of times. “When I’m stoned my writing is far more creative and the letter I write when I’m stoned are far more often published than the letter I write when I’m not stoned.”
Besides asking for the religious use of marijuana for inspirational thinking the Church of Reality has also asked for the religious use of medical marijuana. The Supreme Court has struck down the use of medical Schedule 1 drugs but has upheld the right to use them religiously. You have the right to pray, but not the right to stay alive. In papers filed by the Church of Reality we connect to two. We have the “Sacred Principle of Compassion” which compels us to give drugs to people who medically need drugs even if that means breaking the law.
We also have a religious concept of “self ownership” that gives a person a religious right over their own lives. In the Church of Reality everything a person does from the time they are born to the time they die is their, “Life Story” and that one’s story is one’s most sacred personal possession. So if the Supreme Court doesn’t give us a constitutional right to say alive, the Church of Reality gives you a religious right to stay alive that is constitutional. “Our doctrine,” says Perkel, “bridges the gap allowing us to both give and receive medical marijuana which is otherwise legally prohibited. These are issues that we addresses in our appellate brief that were ignored by the Ninth Circuit that we are asking the court to decide.”
“The RFRA case is more than just about drugs,” says Perkel. “It’s about other religious freedoms too.” If we get this case won we’re going to address issue of religious privacy under our Sacred Principles of Privacy. We are also going to assert a religious right to have doctor assisted life termination for the terminally ill. And we are going to assert a religious right to abortion.”
One thing to keep in mind however is that whatever the court decides, it only applies to members of the Church of Reality. “Only Realists get to smoke pot if we win. You have to accept reality as your primary basis for belief. Our request of the court is narrowly tailored to comply with the requirements of the law.”
Perkel has filed a Petition for Rehearing and a motion to dismiss the current panel and appoint a new 3 judge panel. Perkel has also written a letter to the Chiif Judge of the Ninth Circuit, Alex Kozinski, expressing his concerns that his case was mishandled and asking the judge in his administrative capacity to ensure due process of law.
“Even if the Court rules against the Church of Reality,” says Perkel, “I want it to be a real decision that I can appeal to the Supreme Court. This decision is junk. It is garbage. If a first year law student turned in this decision the teacher would send it back and tell the student to finish it. It wouldn’t be complete enough even to merit a failing grade.”
Here’s some references:
The Church of Reality web site:
Here are links to the case filings and decisions:
I am asking that you take this as a serious story and that it is interesting to your readers for several reasons.
1) This is about religious rights, not drug rights. This is how the Ninth Circuit treats religions.
2) It raises the question if people without lawyers are entitled to the same level of justice as people with lawyers.
3) It raises questions about if the Ninth Circuit is too big to process the case load and should be split.
4) It raises the question about the impact that the Republican filibusters are having on the courts holding up the appointment of judges that are badly needed.
5) It raises the issue of reality based religions and how they compare and contrast to faith based religions.
6) It raises the issue of the role of marijuana in society and if it should be legalized.
7) I want the court to know that the press is watching so that they don’t try to sweep us under the rug.
Feel free to contact me. I give one hell of an interview.