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High on religion?

November 12, 2005

The U.S. Supreme Court this month heard arguments in a case involving a Brazil-based church that uses a hallucinogenic tea during its worship. The Bush administration says the tea is illegal and dangerous, but members of the church in New Mexico consider it sacred. How should American society balance religious freedoms with other laws as well as with personal safety and health?

This is a very difficult call. There are very few churches in the U.S. that use mind altering substances, but that does not mean they shouldn't have the right.

The only approach I can think of is to have a special team of spiritually trained ethicists review the group's organization to insure that this is not just an excuse to use drugs, or that the drugs used are then abused. I don't think it would be right to just have some sort of outright ban.

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Drugs like this have been used throughout history in many different religions and, for the individuals involved, they are central to how people understand God and their place in the universe.

While I am not an advocate of such a spiritual practice, I have read books and talked to individuals who have been involved in such practices. They all seem to have had significant spiritual breakthroughs and benefited from a different kind of insight. I found their stories compelling and helpful in understanding the varieties of religious experiences possible.

Such experiences, when seen as part of a larger picture, reveal the depth and substance of humanity's capacity to know the divine. Without that picture, humanity would be a shallow sensation in which everyone had the same experience of God.

SENIOR PASTOR

JAMES TURRELL

Center for Spiritual Discovery

Costa Mesa

Health and wholeness and holiness are intimately connected. The interrelationships of religious experience and alternative states of consciousness are older than recorded human history.

From time immemorial, visionary and sacred states have been attained through the ritual use of mind-changing substances very different from the communion wine used in this parish church.

Our courts have faced challenges over the years from persons claiming that their constitutional right to freely exercise their religion has been trammeled by various drug prohibitions.

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