The government can question whether or not the beliefs are religious in nature. The most common test is the so-called Meyers Test used in the case of UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. David MEYERS, Defendant-Appellant, United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, November 5, 1996, 95 F.3d 1475.
The Meyers Test:
1. Ultimate Ideas
2. Metaphysical Beliefs
3. Moral or Ethical System
4. Comprehensiveness of Beliefs
5. Accoutrements of Religion
a. Founder, Prophet, or Teacher
b. Important Writings
c. Gathering Places
d. Keepers of Knowledge
e. Ceremonies and Rituals
f. Structure or Organization
h. Diet or Fasting
i. Appearance and Clothing
The following is a direct quotation from the Appeals Court decision.
Just prior to trial, the government discovered that Jones had lied to investigating officers in his initial statements by omitting Recores middleman role in the conspiracy and by stating that he dealt directly with Meyers when in fact he dealt primarily with Recore. Jones allegedly lied pursuant to an agreement between Meyers, Recore, and himself which provided that if caught Recore and Jones would intentionally blame Meyers for the entire conspiracy so that Meyers could try out his religious freedom defense.
At trial, Jones testified that from January to July, 1994, he would receive between five and seven pounds of marijuana from Recore every seven to ten days; in July, 1994, he traveled to El Paso, Texas, to obtain marijuana from Federico at the direction of Recore, who was acting at the direction of Meyers; and at the end of August, 1994, he traveled to Tucson, Arizona, to meet with Meyers cousin, Mitchell Meyers, and obtain four pounds of marijuana. Recore testified that he was receiving all the marijuana he distributed to Jones from Meyers and that he was acting at Meyers direction by delivering the marijuana to Jones.
Before trial, Meyers filed numerous motions including motions to dismiss based on religious freedom under the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000bb et. seq. (RFRA). At the hearing on Meyers religious freedom defense, Meyers testified that he is the founder and Reverend of the Church of Marijuana and that it is his sincere belief that his religion commands him to use, possess, grow and distribute marijuana for the good of mankind and the planet earth.
After a careful and thorough analysis, the district court concluded that the neutral drug laws at issue were not subject to a First Amendment free exercise challenge and that Meyers beliefs did not constitute a religion for purposes of the RFRA. United States v. Meyers, 906 F.Supp. 1494, 1509 (D.Wyo.1995). Therefore, the court denied his motion to raise a RFRA defense.
Meyers argues that the district court erred in refusing to recognize his interpretation of his own religion and in refusing to give his beliefs the status of religion under the RFRA.
In response to the Courts rejection of the compelling governmental interest test in Smith, Congress passed the RFRA reestablishing the compelling interest test of Sherbert, 374 U.S. 398, 83 S.Ct. 1790, 10 L.Ed.2d 965, and Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S. 205, 92 S.Ct. 1526, 32 L.Ed.2d 15 (1972), as the analytical framework governing all cases where free exercise of religion is substantially burdened. 42 U.S.C. § 2000bb(b)(1).
The RFRA provides that [g]overnment shall not substantially burden a persons exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability, except as provided in subsection (b) of this section. § 2000bb-1(a). Subsection (b) provides that:
Government may substantially burden a persons exercise of religion only if it demonstrates that application of the burden to the person--
(1) is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and
(2) is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.
42 U.S.C. § 2000bb-1(b).
Under the RFRA, a plaintiff must establish, by a preponderance of the evidence, three threshold requirements to state a prima facie free exercise claim. Thiry v. Carlson, 78 F.3d 1491, 1494 (10th Cir.1996). The governmental action must (1) substantially burden, (2) a religious belief rather than a philosophy or way of life, (3) which belief is sincerely held by the plaintiff. Id. The government need only accommodate the exercise of actual religious convictions. Werner v. McCotter, 49 F.3d 1476, 1479 n. 1 (10th Cir.) (citing Yoder, 406 U.S. at 215-19, 92 S.Ct. at 1533-35; Thomas v. Review Bd., 450 U.S. 707, 713-18, 101 S.Ct. 1425, 1429-32, 67 L.Ed.2d 624 (1981)), cert. denied, --- U.S. ----, 115 S.Ct. 2625, 132 L.Ed.2d 866 (1995). Once the plaintiff has established the threshold requirements by a preponderance of the evidence, the burden shifts to the government to demonstrate that the challenged regulation furthers a compelling state interest in the least restrictive manner. Werner, 49 F.3d at 1480 n. 2 (citing 42 U.S.C. § 2000bb-1(b)).
Our review of the requirements, although largely factual in nature, presents mixed questions of fact and law. Thiry, 78 F.3d at 1495. We review the meaning of the RFRA de novo, including the definitions as to what constitutes substantial burden and what constitutes religious belief, and the ultimate determination as to whether the RFRA has been violated. Id. Sincerity is a factual matter and, as with historical and other underlying factual determinations, we defer to the district courts findings, reversing only if those findings are clearly erroneous. Id.
There is no dispute that Meyers beliefs are sincerely held and that they are substantially burdened by 21 U.S.C. §§ 841 and 846 and 18 U.S.C. § 2. The issue is whether his sincerely held beliefs are religious beliefs, rather than a philosophy or way of life. In analyzing this issue, the district court examined the cases that have delved into the question of what is religion and catalogued the many factors used to determine whether a set of beliefs is religious in nature.2 Meyers, 906 F.Supp. at 1501. The court then used its list of factors to examine Meyers beliefs to determine if his beliefs fit the factors sufficiently to be included in the realm of religious beliefs.
Keeping in mind that the threshold for establishing the religious nature of his beliefs is low, the court considered the following factors:
1. Ultimate Ideas: Religious beliefs often address fundamental questions about life, purpose, and death. As one court has put it, a religion addresses fundamental and ultimate questions having to do with deep and imponderable matters. Africa, 662 F.2d at 1032. These matters may include existential matters, such as mans sense of being; teleological matters, such as mans purpose in life; and cosmological matters, such as mans place in the universe.
2. Metaphysical Beliefs: Religious beliefs often are metaphysical, that is, they address a reality which transcends the physical and immediately apparent world. Adherents to many religions believe that there is another dimension, place, mode, or temporality, and they often believe that these places are inhabited by spirits, souls, forces, deities, and other sorts of inchoate or intangible entities.
3. Moral or Ethical System: Religious beliefs often prescribe a particular manner of acting, or way of life, that is moral or ethical. In other words, these beliefs often describe certain acts in normative terms, such as right and wrong, good and evil, or just and unjust. The beliefs then proscribe those acts that are wrong, evil, or unjust. A moral or ethical belief structure also may create duties--duties often imposed by some higher power, force, or spirit--that require the believer to abnegate elemental self-interest.
4. Comprehensiveness of Beliefs: Another hallmark of religious ideas is that they are comprehensive. More often than not, such beliefs provide a telos, an overreaching array of beliefs that coalesce to provide the believer with answers to many, if not most, of the problems and concerns that confront humans. In other words, religious beliefs generally are not confined to one question or a single teaching. Africa, 662 F.2d at 1035.
5. Accoutrements of Religion: By analogy to many of the established or recognized religions, the presence of the following external signs may indicate that a particular set of beliefs is religious:
a. Founder, Prophet, or Teacher: Many religions have been wholly founded or significantly influenced by a deity, teacher, seer, or prophet who is considered to be divine, enlightened, gifted, or blessed.
b. Important Writings: Most religions embrace seminal, elemental, fundamental, or sacred writings. These writing often include creeds, tenets, precepts, parables, commandments, prayers, scriptures, catechisms, chants, rites, or mantras.
c. Gathering Places: Many religions designate particular structures or places as sacred, holy, or significant. These sites often serve as gathering places for believers. They include physical structures, such as churches, mosques, temples, pyramids, synagogues, or shrines; and natural places, such as springs, rivers, forests, plains, or mountains.
d. Keepers of Knowledge: Most religions have clergy, ministers, priests, reverends, monks, shamans, teachers, or sages. By virtue of their enlightenment, experience, education, or training, these people are keepers and purveyors of religious knowledge.
e. Ceremonies and Rituals: Most religions include some form of ceremony, ritual, liturgy, sacrament, or protocol. These acts, statements, and movements are prescribed by the religion and are imbued with transcendent significance.
f. Structure or Organization: Many religions have a congregation or group of believers who are led, supervised, or counseled by a hierarchy of teachers, clergy, sages, priests, etc.
g. Holidays: As is etymologically evident, many religions celebrate, observe, or mark holy, sacred, or important days, weeks, or months.
h. Diet or Fasting: Religions often prescribe or prohibit the eating of certain foods and the drinking of certain liquids on particular days or during particular times.
i. Appearance and Clothing: Some religions prescribe the manner in which believers should maintain their physical appearance, and other religions prescribe the type of clothing that believers should wear.
j. Propagation: Most religious groups, thinking that they have something worthwhile or essential to offer non-believers, attempt to propagate their views and persuade others of their correctness. This is sometimes called mission work, witnessing, converting, or proselytizing.
Meyers, 906 F.Supp. at 1502-03 (footnotes omitted).
The district court emphasized that it cannot rely solely on established or recognized religions to guide it in determining whether a new and unique set of beliefs warrants inclusion and that no one of these factors is dispositive, and that the factors should be seen as criteria that, if minimally satisfied, counsel the inclusion of beliefs within the term religion. Id. at 1503. However, in accord with Yoder, the court noted that [p]urely personal, political, ideological, or secular beliefs probably would not satisfy enough criteria for inclusion. Id. at 1504. See Yoder, 406 U.S. at 216, 92 S.Ct. at 1533-34 (philosophical and personal beliefs are secular beliefs); Africa, 662 F.2d at 1036 (finding beliefs are secular not religious); Berman, 156 F.2d at 380-81 (beliefs which are moral and social are not religious); Church of the Chosen People, 548 F.Supp. at 1253 (beliefs which are sexual and secular are not religious).
After carefully examining Meyers beliefs derived from his testimony, the district court concluded that his beliefs were secular and, thus, did not constitute a religion for RFRA purposes. Meyers, 906 F.Supp. at 1509. The court concluded that:
Marijuanas medical, therapeutic, and social effects are secular, not religious. Here, the Court cannot give Meyers religious beliefs much weight because those beliefs appear to be derived entirely from his secular beliefs. In other words, Meyers secular and religious beliefs overlap only in the sense that Meyers holds secular beliefs which he believes so deeply that he has transformed them into a religion.
While Meyers may sincerely believe that his beliefs are religious, this Court cannot rely on his sincerity to conclude that his beliefs rise to the level of a religion and therefore trigger RFRAs protections. Meyers is, of course, absolutely free to think or believe what he wants. If he thinks that his beliefs are a religion, then so be it. No one can restrict his beliefs, and no one should begrudge him those beliefs. None of this, however, changes the fact that his beliefs do not constitute a religion as that term is uneasily defined by law. Were the Court to recognize Meyers beliefs as religious, it might soon find itself on a slippery slope where anyone who was cured of an ailment by a medicine that had pleasant side-effects could claim that they had founded a constitutionally or statutorily protected religion based on the beneficial medicine.
Id. at 1508. Finally, the court noted that Meyers professed beliefs have an ad hoc quality that neatly justify his desire to smoke marijuana. Id. at 1509.
We agree with the district court. Under the district courts thorough analysis of the indicia of religion, which we adopt, we hold that Meyers beliefs more accurately espouse a philosophy and/or way of life rather than a religion. The district court did not err in prohibiting Meyers religious freedom defense.