This week, an appeals court ruled against an inmate who argued his 27-year sentence on drug charges should be reversed because it was his religious duty to sell heroin.
But why? Objectively speaking, how is his faith different from others that get religious protection?
Timothy Anderson, a “student of Esoteric and Mysticism studies,” said he created a religious nonprofit to distribute the illegal drug to “the sick, lost, blind, lame, deaf and dead members of God’s Kingdom.” Anderson was convicted and sentenced to 324 months after a judge wouldn’t allow him to present his religious defense to a jury.
On appeal, the court ruled against Anderson… but not because his argument is ludicrous (which it is). Instead, the judges skated by on a technicality, stating that Anderson was “distributing heroin to others for non-religious uses.”
Here’s Judge Ray Gruender of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals:
Anderson does not even allege that the recipients of his heroin used it for their own religious purposes. Rather, he alleges only that his distribution allowed him to exercise his own religious beliefs. Thus, we have no difficulty concluding that prosecuting Anderson under the CSA (Controlled Substances Act) would further a compelling governmental interest in mitigating the risk that heroin will be diverted to recreational users.
Before you agree with the court’s interpretation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), consider that there are cannabis-centered religions as well as federal exemptions for hoasca and peyote, which are also Schedule 1 drugs. What happens when someone does distribute heroin in a manner consistent with these other religions? If Anderson really gave it to others for religious purposes, would he have been exempt from the law? This is what no one seems to be talking about.
Am I saying this man should get away with his crimes? No.
I am only pointing out that this is the natural progression of laws that create religious exemptions to criminal laws. Allowing people to circumvent the rules based on their religious beliefs will always lead to abuse, because beliefs are personal and spiritual. They aren’t objective, and they don’t have to be based in reality. By allowing some religious groups to commit felonies, you have to exempt others, too, including those that make no sense by any rational measure.
There must be a line drawn somewhere. And when it comes to religious exemptions, that line is apparently not the abuse of Schedule 1 drugs or vaccinations or even the killing of children through avoidance of medical treatment over prayer.
(Image via Shutterstock)