The Church of the Universe in Toronto, Ontario maintains that Canada’s marijuana laws violate their right to religious freedom. The church, which refers to marijuana as the “Tree of Life….from the Garden of Eden, a gift from God,” encourages its members to “surround themselves with the holy Tree of Life, not just inhaling it, but wearing it, growing it, writing on it, eating it, etc.”
However, the CBC reports that the reverends Peter Styrsky and Shahrooz Kharaghani ran into trouble in 2006 when they allegedly sold small amounts of marijuana to undercover police officers who were posing as members of the church.
The two reverends submitted a legal challenge arguing that the church uses the drug as a sacrament and that the law they were charged under infringes on their religious rights under Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Their claim was thrown out by the judge on Monday after Justice Thea Herman of the Ontario Superior Court ruled that “distributing marijuana is not an activity that deserves protection as a religious freedom.” She ruled that giving a legal exemption for the use of marijuana for religious purposes is not feasible due to “difficulties in identifying both the religious user and the religious use of cannabis.”
However, the reverends do not see her decision entirely as a defeat. As reported by the Toronto Star, despite defeating the motion, the judge also stated that “the laws against pot possession – though not trafficking – limited the two men’s freedom of religion.” According to the CBC, Reverend Styrsky said: “I think the judge said that we do have the right to use it. She just didn’t know how to implement it for us.”
This is not the first debate Canada has had on the applicability of its laws and other rules vis-a-vis the protection of religious freedom under the charter. The other high profile case recently has been the wearing of a kirpan by Sikh boys and men. While Sikh boys are now allowed to wear kirpans to school (with some restrictions), despite a ban on knives in schools, a group of Sikh men were recently barred access to the Quebec legislature because they were carrying kirpans.
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Annie blogs about the art and science of parenting at the PhD in Parenting blog.
Photo credit: r0bz on flickr