[The following is taken from the Boston Herald Thursday April 13, 1989 and is from an AP w
[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
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
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank