View attachment 50263 An Alabama church founded last year has a legal exemption for its members to smoke marijuana and ingest hallucinogenic mushrooms and peyote cactus, according to Christopher Rushing, who is listed as chief executive officer.
The Oklevueha Native American Church of Inner Light in Warrior has been licensed as a federally registered branch of the Oklevueha Lakota Sioux Nation Native American Church, Rushing said. "We are the only federally registered people allowed to have these sacraments," as far as a church in Alabama, he said in interview with AL.com.
The church has a religious exemption to use psilocybin mushrooms and peyote cactus, both of which have properties that augment traditional Native American spiritual beliefs and experiences, Rushing said. He calls their use in religious ceremonies a sacrament. All 120 members in the Alabama branch of the church carry photo identification, similar to a driver's license, that identifies them as members of a church that has a federal religious exemption to use natural drugs that otherwise are prohibited by law, he said. The church has a mix of Christian and Native American beliefs, Rushing said. "We believe what Christ spoke and taught," Rushing said.
Rushing, 39, grew up in Decatur and now lives in a double-wide trailer in Warrior with his wife, Janice, and two sons, who are 20 and 15. Rushing does not claim to have more than a small percentage of Native American ancestry, and said the church is open to people regardless of race or ethnic background. He believes all natural plants should be legal for medicinal use, including marijuana, peyote cactus and psilocybin mushrooms. "These plants are in no way toxic or deadly," Rushing said. "They have been used for thousands of years for medicinal purposes, long before pharmaceutical companies began making synthetic versions of them."
Researchers at UAB and other universities are studying the benefits of such natural treatments, including the use of psilocybin mushrooms in treating cocaine abuse. Peter Hendricks, a clinical psychologist at UAB, is currently doing research on the use of the active ingredient in psilocybin mushrooms.
"I do not recommend that people use psychoactive substances outside of medically supervised situations," Hendricks said. "They are extraordinarily safe, though things can go wrong. There's a long history of use by humans; these substances are for the most part safe. I wouldn't want anyone to be hurt. Some people have acute reactions of fear, of terror, paranoia." There is always the danger of a "bad trip," he said. "If somebody isn't ready for a challenging experience, there can be hours of intense fear or paranoia," Hendricks said. "You wouldn't want to be operating a motor vehicle, be at a rooftop party or close to traffic."
Hendricks will be speaking about his research on May 28 at the invitation of Rushing, who organized an event at Homewood Public Library from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. to discuss the use of plants with hallucinogenic properties. Hendricks said he will only talk about his research and does not endorse Rushing's church or whether its use of drugs is legal or not. "I'm not a constitutional lawyer; I'm a psychologist," Hendricks said. "I'm talking about my work. I am trying to get the word out on my research on the cocaine addiction issue."
Rushing carries around with him documentation of court rulings such as a unanimous ruling in United States v. Robert Boyll in the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, which found that a non-Native American who was arrested for possession and intent to distribute peyote had the same constitutional protections as Native American members of the church.
Despite carrying identification cards and documentation of court rulings in favor of religious protections of Native American spiritual use of natural hallucinogens, church members have still been arrested, Rushing said.
Two were arrested earlier this year in Decatur and Morgan County and charged with marijuana possession. The church has a civil rights attorney based in California ready to argue their cases, but the trials have been repeatedly delayed, Rushing said. "The Native American Church has had to deal with persecution and law enforcement authorities who question their legitimacy and beliefs," Rushing said. "We need to get out in the public eye and talk about it," he said. "We don't want any conflict. There have been local municipalities that have overstepped their bounds and don't want to follow federal law. We want to establish our legitimacy and help people."
Rushing was licensed by James Warren "Flaming Eagle" Mooney of Utah, who won a court battle with the state of Utah. The Utah Supreme Court ruled in Mooney's favor in 2004, in State of Utah vs. Mooney's and Oklevueha Native American Church. The state had argued that Mooney was engaged in a criminal enterprise for distributing peyote and tried to seize the church property. The Supreme Court ruled that the Native American Church was entitled to the religious exemption.
Unlike most churches, the Oklevueha Native American Church in Alabama doesn't have weekly services. Rushing works with individuals in using the natural drugs to achieve spiritual enlightenment. Joining requires a letter of sincerity from the branch leader, he said. Rushing said he has only used peyote three times, on Native American reservations. "We haven't had a peyote service in the state yet," he said.
The last time he took part in one was on Native American land in Philadelphia, Miss., he said. A religious ceremony may involve staring into a fire all night while ingesting peyote or mushrooms. "Medicines open portals to reality," he said. "That's how we receive insights and healing. The medicine is personalized. The creator knows who will eat it while it's still growing."
Rushing said he uses marijuana routinely. He only occasionally uses hallucinogenic mushrooms, he said. He began searching for mushrooms with friends when he was 18, he said. "There's very much risk in foraging for yourself," he said. "There are poisonous mushrooms that resemble the medicinal mushrooms." He said he obtains mushrooms legally through medicine men suppliers with the Native American Church.
Rushing said his beliefs have caused conflict with some relatives, such as his grandfather, a staunch Southern Baptist. "I've tried to talk to them about Jesus Christ and his message of love," he said. "They don't want to talk about that. They want to talk about how much you go to church. We are all children of the creator if we choose to be."
Rushing said it does not make sense that pharmaceutical companies make large profits on harmful synthetic and dangerous drugs, while plant and herbal medicines are illegal. "I don't understand societies and governments that want to outlaw nature," Rushing said. "The only reason I see is so they can get rich."
Rushing said the health benefits of marijuana, mushrooms and cacti are enormous. It can combat depression and cure people of addictions, he said. "Our prayer is that the earth gives us things for our health," he said. "Too many people need this help. We believe these medicines unlock and show people the true nature of God."
By Greg Garrison - AL/May 17, 2016
Psychedelic Sacraments are All Part of This US Alabama Church Experience