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Gramps,

I am friends with many good LDS folks who are of Native American ancestry. As part of their cultural ceremonial practices, peyote is used. This is legal under the law of the land but there is much debate about compliance with church standards. There are bishops and stake presidents who attend these ceremonies and others who tell their members that attendance will result in disciplinary action. There are many who say they have seen official church documents warning against this practice but none can be produced. To your knowledge, has the church ever taken an official stand on the use of peyote in Native American ceremonies?

Jim, from Utah

Dear Jim,

Although the use of peyote has not been legally banned as a harmful drug, it has remained legal solely on the grounds of religious practice. Part of a paragraph from Edwin B. Firmage; BYU Studies Vol. 25, No. 3, pg.109, states the following:

“Even in the hard cases where the First Amendment has been invoked on behalf of unpopular religions and practices, such as People vs. Woody, modern courts have generally accorded substantial deference to religious values. In Woody, a group of Navajos asserted that the First Amendment protected their use of the hallucinogen peyote as a part of their religious services. After a careful assessment of the use of peyote in the defendants’ religious life, the California Supreme Court concluded that the state’s interest in controlling drug use did not outweigh the claims of religious freedom. The so-called compelling state interest in protecting the Navajo from the deleterious effects of the drug was dismissed with the comment, ‘We know of no doctrine that the state, in its asserted omniscience, should undertake to deny to defendants the observance of their religion in order to free them from the suppositious ‘shackles’ of their ‘unenlightened’ and ‘primitive condition'”

Thus, I would have nothing to say against the use of the drug as part of a religious ceremony. However, for members of the LDS Church, its use is another story. Here is what President Kimball had to say about it:

“The use of peyote is increasing, and its demoralizing opiate effect is most destructive. The Indians have learned all the white man’s vices, and liquor is ‘at flood stage’ there. And thus they live without the power to raise themselves from the deplorable situation. They cannot lift themselves by their bootstraps. They must have help (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p.604).

I’m sure that local opinions vary on the use of peyote among LDS people, and I assume that it is one of the many areas where wisdom and judgement must be brought into play, as is the case with many other substances that although they are not mentioned formally in the Word of Wisdom, are equally deleterious to the health if not more so.

Gramps

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