Members of Tahteya Topa Native American Church reignited a long-standing legal battle against the state of Utah for having banned them from using peyote in religious ceremonies. Church members cited their right to religious liberty and demanded that the ban be overturned as soon as possible.
“People say it’s a hallucinogen, which it’s not,” church member David Hamblin said during a protest in Salt Lake City. “It’s a plant portal to the spirit world. If you believe in the reality of the spirit world, what you see is real, whether it’s negative or positive.”
However, the state government does classify the tiny cactus, constituting mescaline, as a hallucinogen in the Controlled Substances Act, despite acknowledging the plant’s significance to tribes in both northern Mexico and southwestern United States.
Hamblin said that he was first arrested in 2000 for possessing peyote along with Linda Mooney and James Flaming Eagle. Four years later, the state’s Supreme Court ruled that both Mooney and Eagle were innocent as their right to use and distribute peyote to non-Native members for church ceremonies was protected by the American Constitution. In 2006, Native American leaders decided to back state House Bill 60, which instructed that the use of the drug be limited to members of federally approved tribes only.
However, Hamblin recently protested against that law as well as some other state requirements that say peyote users need to be at least 25 percent Native American.
“What they’re really doing is trying to kill a religion by saying you have to have a certain blood,” he said. “Religion is not about race.”
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