American Indian church sues feds over peyote use

SALT LAKE CITY — An American Indian church is suing state and federal police and prosecutors over the right of its members to use peyote in religious ceremonies, even if they aren’t of Indian ancestry.

The lawsuit was filed Monday in Utah’s U.S. District Court on behalf of the Oklevueha Native American Church. It contends that federal laws that protect peyote use by American Indians should apply to anyone who belongs to the church.

The lawsuit seeks to block state and federal law enforcement from arresting or bringing criminal charges against church members who “fear reprisal from both state and federal governments for openly practicing their religion,” court papers state.

Named as defendants in the lawsuit are the U.S. Department of Justice, the FBI, Drug Enforcement Agency and the Utah attorney general’s office. Messages left with the federal agencies were not all immediately returned on Thursday, although an FBI spokesman in Salt Lake City said he could not comment on pending litigation.

Paul Murphy, spokesman for the Utah attorney general said the office could not comment until after it had seen the lawsuit.

A plant with hallucinogenic properties, peyote is considered a sacred medicine by Indians. Court papers say it has been used by indigenous populations for thousands of years. Although considered a controlled substance, federal law allows for the use of peyote by Indians for religious reasons.

The Oklevueha church is a federally recognized American Indian church with roots in the Native American Church founded in 1918. Court documents say the faith has practicing members on many reservations and across 29 states, Canada, Mexico and Peru.


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