AP, Apr. 23, 2003
Wednesday April 23, 2003 7:49 AM
WHITE CLOUD, Mich. (AP) – A 4-year-old boy must wait until he is physically and emotionally ready before he can ingest sacramental peyote at American Indian ceremonies, a family court judge said.
In his 31-page decision Tuesday, Judge Graydon W. Dimkoff described peyote as “dangerous” and prohibited the boy from ingesting the peyote as a minor until he is fully aware of the implications and has permission from both parents.
The boy’s father, Jonathan Fowler, 36, a member of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, had asked Dimkoff to reverse an earlier decision and allow his son to ingest sacramental peyote with him at the Native American Church of the Morning Star. Fowler contended that prohibiting the boy from ingesting peyote infringes on his religious freedom.
Kristin Hanslovsky, Fowler’s ex-wife, had fought the request, saying peyote could injure her son.
Hanslovsky, a Roman Catholic, said Tuesday she has no interest in stifling anyone’s religious freedom and no problem with her son being taught traditional Indian ways.
“The biggest issue is, I want my son to be able to choose. He needs to make the choice, not me, not his father,” she said. “He needs to be the one, when he is an adult – that is the appropriate age for him to make an informed decision.”
Dimkoff wrote that he would prefer the boy be at least 16 before ingesting peyote, but that the decision must be made jointly by the parents “with some consideration being given to the child’s desire.
Fowler said he would appeal the ruling.
“For American citizens, including Indians – at least in this state – religious freedom has been reduced to the whims of a Family Court judge,” Fowler said.
The ruling didn’t surprise Fowler, who has credited his use of peyote with helping him find God and stay sober for 10 years.
“We’ve been experiencing these things for 515 years now,” he said. “So what did I expect, really?”
Peyote, a 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 – usually drunk as a tea or eaten as a greenish paste – 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 classifies peyote as a controlled substance, and in most instances a person caught with more than 4 ounces faces the possibility of a 20-year prison sentence.
But during the last century, peyote’s use in religious rites spread among American Indians throughout the United States, including the upper Midwest. Congress recognized this sacramental use of peyote eight years ago by amending the American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978 to protect the practice in all 50 states.
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