A Utah County man today celebrated his right to religious freedom. The Native American Church leader fought for his right to use peyote and the Utah Supreme Court agreed.
Four years ago James “Flaming Eagle” Mooney was thrust into a struggle that pitted religious freedom against US drug laws. Mooney argued his peyote ceremonies were protected by law. Utah County charged him as a drug dealer, but Mooney won.
James “Flaming Eagle” Mooney’s Oklevueha Earthwalk’s Native American Church has few members today. But they held a sacred pipe ceremony in front of the federal courthouse. They smoked legal herbs to honor their attorney and the Utah Supreme Court.
Mooney is grateful that the state has given up on prosecuting his case after the high court ruled unanimously in his favor.
James “Flaming Eagle” Mooney: “This is a stand for me. This is who I am. This is what I do. So whatever they throw at me, makes no difference to me.”
Four years ago, deputies raided his church in Benjamin and seized thousands of peyote buttons. Mooney and his wife were jailed and charged as drug dealers. Mooney stood up for his religious rights, but it took a toll on his family and his church.
James “Flaming Eagle” Mooney: “Everyone has been so terrorized with the threat of arrest and imprisonment if they partake in these ceremonies.”
Native Americans consider peyote sacred medicine, and the ceremonies are protected by federal law. The Utah Supreme Court said the ceremonies are protected even if church members are not Native Americans.
Kathryn Collard, Mooney’s Lawyer: “We have to fight for our constitutional rights in every age. A lot of us take those rights for granted.”
Mooney says it was never a fight or a battle, it was a stand for freedom.
James “Flaming Eagle” Mooney: “We can worship as LDS Mormons worship, without the fear of somebody invading their temple and arresting their temple president. That’s what happened here.”
The US Attorney has warned Mooney he could still be charged federally and the Utah County attorney’s office may approach the legislature about restrictions on peyote. Mooney and his attorney say they will continue to take a stand for his religious freedom.
Sep, 22, 2004
Jed Boal (reporter)