[The following is taken from the Boston Herald Thursday April 13, 1989 and is from an AP w

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[The following is taken from the Boston Herald Thursday April 13, 1989 and is from an AP wire report] COURT : RELIGION NO DEFENSE FOR DRUG USE ---------------------------------------- The free exercise of religion in Massachusetts does not extend to illegal acts such as smoking marijuana, the state Supreme Court ruled yesterday in upholding the conviction of a Monson couple who said they smoked the drug as a religious sacrament. By a 6-1 majority, the high court rejected the appeals of David and Christine Nissenbaum, who invoked the religious freedom protections of the state Constitution to challenge the goverment's right to prosecute them on drug charges. After considering the couple's rights under both the state and federal constitutions, teh majority ruled the state's interest in maintaining public order outweighed any constitutional claim the Nissenbaum's might have to freely practice their religion. "Religious freedom is not, and cannot be, absolute under either constitution," Judge Francis O'Conner wrote for the majority. The court said that, just as the freedom of speech is not absolute, the freedom of religion must be balanced against other interests, including law enfgorcement. "I'm very unhappy because I happen to know that David and Christine Nissenbaum are sincere adherents of the Coptic faith," said defense attorney Linda Thompson, adding that the couple might appeal further in federal court. According to court records, the Nissenbaums are members - the only two in Massachusetts - of the Ethiopian Zion Coptic Church, and David is a priest. The church, which has existed in Jamaica since the 1930's, teaches that marijuana is the body and blood of Christ and is to be used as a sacrament three times a day. The Nissenbaums were found guilty in Hampden Superior Court of possesing marijuana with intent to distribute. In addition, David Nissenbaum was convicted of unlawfully cultivating marijuana and possesion of hashish. He was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in jail and fined $5,000. He began serving his sentance Dec. 29, 1983. His wife was sentanced to two years probation.


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