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Holy Hemp!

Founded last year, Boulder's Sacred Herb Church wrangles with city police over use of marijuana as its sacrament

By Chris Brown
Campus Press Staff Writer

Most of Boulder's faithful flock to churches and temples on their days of worship, consuming items like wine and bread as sacrament.
Members of Boulder's Sacred Herb Church meet in city parks and smoke marijuana.
Founded in July 1995 by the Rev. Michael Domangue, the Sacred Herb Church has held services Sundays at 4:20 in Boulder's Central Park and other public places for the last 14 months. Sometimes as many as 350 people show up to listen to Domangue and others speak while marijuana is passed through the congregation.
The church prefers to use marijuana as sacrament because of its ability to induce a spiritual state of mind.
"It takes us somewhere," Domangue said. "When we smoke in the woods we become part of the garden, we feel like we belong there. We smoke herb to honor each other, to greet each other. It gives us vision that makes us family, of the beauty in each other."
Domangue said most of the Church's members come from outside the mainstream of society and attend services to speak their minds in a place where they feel free of criticism.
Every member of the Sacred Herb Church is considered a minister, and anyone can speak during services. While the church welcomes everyone, those under 18 are not permitted to partake of its sacrament.
John Duda, a 25-year-old Boulder resident, regularly attends church services, and said some people jump to conclusions about the congregation.
"Some people think the Sacred Herb Church is nothing but a squatter-fest, but a lot of the people who come are perfectly respectable and live in Boulder year round," Duda said.
Domangue, an ordained minister with Our Church of Fayetteville, Ark., preaches against government intrusion into the religious practices of the church, namely its use of marijuana as sacrament.
"Politicians talk about getting government off our backs, but they're meddling in our lives in a way that is evil," said Domangue, a Vietnam veteran. "I didn't risk what I did [in Vietnam] to come home to a police state."
The Sacred Herb Church's first contact with Boulder Police came more than a year after it began holding its services.
Domangue said he was notified in August that if the Church continued smoking in public it would be videotaped, and anyone caught on tape even passing a joint would be charged with distribution of marijuana - a felony carrying a $2,500 bond.
"Nobody had the money for that bond," Domangue said. "We would have all gone to jail and sat there, and they would have had to let someone out to make room for us. I went off. I gave the mayor a brown-shirt award, and the council with her, for their steering of this police force."
The brown- shirt award refers to uniforms worn by the Nazi Secret Service during World War II.
Boulder Police Chief Tom Koby said it would be impossible for his department to videotape the church or use a recording to press charges. He acknowledged sending an officer to speak with Domangue but only to inform him that the church was practically forcing the department to take action.
"He's a hustler, and he's trying to get as much attention as possible," Koby said. "If he attracts enough attention, we'll have no choice but to do something."
Koby said Domangue has an inflated idea of how important his activities are to Boulder Police, and he thinks Domangue is trying to manipulate the media to keep attention focused on his cause.
"He's trying to make an issue where there isn't an issue," Koby said.
Arrested after holding services on the Boulder Courthouse lawn last summer, Domangue was put on probation for possession of marijuana. He said the arrest was intentional, but the court refused to allow Domangue to use religious freedom as a defense to the charge.
In a 1992 case similar to Domangue's, United States v. Carlson, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco denied a California woman the right to use a religious freedom defense against charges of growing and possessing marijuana.
Steve Jones, a professor of constitutional law at CU, said the Sacred Herb Church would face a tough battle in winning legal protection. While some Native American groups have won the right to use peyote as part of their religion, he said the majority of groups similar to the Sacred Herb Church consistently lose their legal battles to establish protection from existing drug laws.
"They've got to prove that it is a genuine religious practice, and then they have to show that the state doesn't have an overriding interest in preventing it," Jones said.
The Church points toward legalized drugs as proof of the hypocrisy of U.S. drug laws.
"Alcohol and tobacco kill hundreds of thousands every year," Domangue said.
While some may view Domangue's efforts as political rather than religious, Domangue is adamant about his beliefs.
"I went through six years of Christian indoctrination, and it took another six years to get over the fear and the guilt from believing in that mind control," he said. "I resent like hell that people don't think we're into this for religion."
Domangue would like CU students to get involved with the church, but he acknowledged the potential differences between its current members and CU students. He thinks a separate chapter might be the answer, with CU students holding their services on campus.
"Smoking herb at the UMC fountain would be an hour of fellowship," he said. "A 4:20 council."

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