GT Band member wants son, 4, to participate in his church’s peyote-laden rites
Traverse City Record-Eagle, Nov. 23, 2002
WHITE CLOUD (AP) – A Michigan man said Friday the court system is restricting his religious freedom by prohibiting his 4-year-old son from being given peyote during American Indian spiritual ceremonies.
“This burdens me,” said Jonathan Fowler, 35, a member of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians.
Fowler, of Traverse City, testified in Newaygo County Family Court during a legal hearing stemming from a custody dispute with his ex-wife, Kristin Hanslovsky, 31, of Montague.
Fowler attends an Indian church where peyote use is considered a sacrament. He credits peyote with helping him to overcome alcoholism and to “come into contact with God as I know him.”
He wants to be able to give peyote to his son during his church’s religious services. Hanslovsky objects, saying it could harm the child.
Hanslovsky was already several months pregnant when she married Fowler in July 1998. They split up soon afterward.
In October 2000, Judge Graydon Dimkoff granted Fowler physical custody of his son but prohibited him from giving peyote to the child. Fowler challenged that portion of the decision in the Michigan Court of Appeals, which returned the case to Dimkoff’s court for further testimony.
Peyote, a small, bitter-tasting cactus that grows in southern Texas and northern Mexico, has been a part of Indian culture for thousands of years. Those who ingest the plant believe it provides enlightenment and other spiritual and physical benefits.
The plant’s active chemical ingredient is mescaline, a hallucinogen. The U.S. criminal code usually classifies peyote as a controlled substance, and a person caught with more than 4 ounces faces the possibility of a 20-year prison sentence.
During the last century, its use in religious rites gradually spread among Indians throughout the United States. The federal government now protects such use of peyote.
Fowler is a member of the Native American Church of the Morning Star. The Michigan chapter of this little-known church combines elements of Christianity with Indian practices that center on the ritual use of peyote.
Members meet irregularly in overnight gatherings held in their homes or in a teepee near Shelby in Oceana County. About 20 to 30 people typically attend.
During each ceremony, a minister, called a roadman, dispenses peyote to members as a tea or a greenish paste passed around in a bowl. Participants spend the night in ritual prayer and song.
Fowler earlier said he wants to be allowed to dip his finger in peyote tea and rub the finger on his son’s forehead. Under cross-examination Friday by Hanslovsky’s lawyer, Martin Holmes, Fowler said he wants to leave it up to his child to decide when to ingest the peyote, and how much of it to take.
“If he says next week that he feels ready to take it, then OK,” Fowler said.
Testifying on Fowler’s behalf was John H. Halpern, a psychiatrist and researcher at Harvard Medical School who is an expert on hallucinogens and peyote.
Halpern said he has extensively studied of the use of peyote in Indian religious ceremonies and found no evidence of any child or adult being harmed by it.
He also questioned the court’s decision to take up the matter, saying the federal government has affirmed such use of peyote.
“We have to protect these people’s traditions and ways,” Halpern said.
Under cross-examination, Holmes grilled the researcher, repeatedly asking if there is evidence showing peyote users, particularly young children, face no risks. Halpern’s response was that too much of anything is bad, whether it’s peyote or Tylenol.
The next hearing in the matter is to be held Dec. 27, when Hanslovsky will get a chance to present her case.