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Santeria And “Constitutional Issues”


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Apparently, a Santeria priest, in Utah of all places, was arrested for possession of legal ritual tools. Now, some aspects of Santeria make me a little squeamish, but don't they deserve the same constitutional protections as everyone else. And to make it more relevant to this board, if they aren't protected, what can we expect when we are the unpopular ones?

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And to make it more relevant to this board, if they aren't protected, what can we expect when we are the unpopular ones?

My sister in the US State of Georgia told me that LDS issued a statement in Georgia concerning Native Americans and otherwise illegal drugs. Essentially the statement was to support freedom of religion, but the statement did not endorse the drugs use and IIRC the drug use was not mentioned. As for some on this board, it is my experience that when one claims that everyones rights are connected and the LDS should defend the unpopular in some cases, such statements are met with scoffs and jeers.

In the end though, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Articles of Faith make it very clear that all are entitle to worship according to the dictates of their own conscience.

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Snake dancing for certain baptist sects is illegal in the US.

The states of Alabama, Kentucky and Tennessee have passed laws against the use of venomous snakes and/or other reptiles in a place that endangers the lives of others, or without a permit. The Kentucky law specifically mentions religious services; in Kentucky snake handling is a misdemeanor and punishable by a $50 to $250 fine.[6] Most snake handling practices, therefore, take place in the homes of worshippers, which avoids the process of attempting to obtain a government permit for the church. Law enforcement officers usually ignore these religious practices unless and until they are specifically called in. This is not usually done unless a death has resulted from the practice.

In July 2008, 10 people were arrested and 125 venomous snakes were confiscated as part of an undercover sting operation titled "Twice Shy." Pastor Gregory James Coots of the Full Gospel Tabernacle in Jesus Name was arrested and 74 snakes were seized from his home as part of the sting. A Tennessee woman died in 1995 due to a rattlesnake bite received during a service at the Tabernacle church.[7][8]

The practice is legal in the state of West Virginia.

Snake handling was made a felony punishable by death under Georgia law in 1941, following the death of a seven-year-old girl from a rattlesnake bite in a snake handling incident. However, the severity of the punishment was such that juries would never convict, and the law was repealed in 1968.[9]


Employment Division, Department of Human Resources of Oregon v. Smith

The majority opinion was delivered by Justice Scalia. The First Amendment forbids government from prohibiting the "free exercise" of religion. This means, of course, that government may not regulate beliefs as such, either by compelling certain beliefs or forbidding them. Religious belief frequently entails the performance of physical acts—assembling for worship, consumption of bread and wine, abstaining from certain foods or behaviors. Government could no more ban the performance of these physical acts when engaged in for religious reasons than it could ban the religious beliefs that compel those actions in the first place. "It would doubtless be unconstitutional, for example, to ban the casting of statues that are to be used for worship purposes or to prohibit bowing down before a golden calf."

But Oregon's ban on the possession of peyote is not a law specifically aimed at a physical act engaged in for a religious reason. Rather, it is a law that applies to everyone who might possess peyote, for whatever reason—a "neutral law of general applicability," in the Court's phrasing. The Court characterized Smith's and Black's argument as an attempt to use their religious motivation to use peyote in order to place themselves beyond the reach of Oregon's neutral, generally applicable ban on the possession of peyote. The Court held that the First Amendment's protection of the "free exercise" of religion does not allow a person to use a religious motivation as a reason not to obey such generally applicable laws. "To permit this would be to make the professed doctrines of religious belief superior to the law of the land, and in effect to permit every citizen to become a law unto himself." Thus, the Court had held that religious beliefs did not excuse people from complying with laws forbidding polygamy, child labor laws, Sunday closing laws, laws requiring citizens to register for Selective Service, and laws requiring the payment of Social Security taxes.


So we can see there are exceptions to freedom of religion.

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"To permit this would be to make the professed doctrines of religious belief superior to the law of the land, and in effect to permit every citizen to become a law unto himself."

that is the only good thing that came from Reynolds v. US (the case that officially outlawed polygamy even as a religious practice)

IIRC some of reasoning in the Oregon case had to with the sincerity of the persons to the religion.

I would also say the snake handlers have a good argument for freedom of religion violation under Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye v. City of Hialeah which incidentally is the same religion mentioned in the OP.

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It is always a dangerous thing to use the power of the state to compel belief. But there are some times when there is a overriding public interest to limit actions. You can not volunteer yourself, let alone anyone else, to be murdered. Fire codes are a good thing, and having a group of people meet in a condemned building is not wise.

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