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Judge weighs issues about father’s religious freedom, child’s health • Friday March 21, 2003

AP, Mar. 21, 2003
By JAMES PRICHARD, The Associated Press

WHITE CLOUD, Mich. (AP) — A judge who has been asked to allow a 4-year-old boy to receive peyote during American Indian spiritual ceremonies must consider the child’s health as well as the father’s religious rights.

At a hearing that concluded Friday, Judge Graydon W. Dimkoff of Newaygo County Family Court said he would issue a ruling within 28 days.

Jonathan Fowler, 36, of Traverse City, attends an American Indian church in the northern Lower Peninsula where peyote, which contains mescaline — a hallucinogen — is ingested as a sacrament.

After divorcing, Fowler was granted physical custody of the boy in October 2000. He appealed a portion of Dimkoff’s custody order that prohibits the child from being given peyote.

The Michigan Court of Appeals returned the case to Dimkoff and directed him to find out whether the sacramental use of peyote could harm the child. The judge heard testimony on Nov. 22 and again on Thursday and Friday.

Fowler’s attorneys, Gregory Stevens and Thomas Myers, of Lansing-based Michigan Indian Legal Services, argued that the case is about Fowler’s First Amendment rights of religious freedom.

Martin Holmes, a North Muskegon attorney representing Fowler’s former wife, Kristin Hanslovsky, 31, of Whitehall, characterized the case as a child protection issue.

The peyote cactus, which is indigenous to southern Texas and northern Mexico, has been part of Indian culture for thousands of years. Those who ingest the plant for religious reasons believe it provides enlightenment and other spiritual and physical benefits.

At Fowler’s church, the Native American Church of the morning Star, which meets six to 10 times per year, members sing, pray and ingest peyote in the form of a tea and a paste.

The federal government has outlawed the use of peyote except in certain Indian churches where it is a sacrament.

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