“It’s not nice to have a state being openly prejudice against a church,” Levin, the founder and Grand Poobah of the First Church of Cannabis, said. “It’s sort of appalling. It hasn’t happened since Martin Luther’s time.”
Due to the recently enacted Religious Freedom Restoration Act, it’s possible Levin’s legal claims have merit in the state of Indiana.
The law, which went into effect July 1, stipulates the government cannot “substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion,” unless the court deems burdening that religious practice is the least restrictive way of furthering a “compelling government interest.”
Levin seemingly created the church, which promotes smoking marijuana as a critical component of religious practice, in direct response to RFRA. He claims, however, it is much more than a political statement.
“It’s about celebrating life’s great adventure,” he said. “It’s a church built on love, compassion and good health. We’re here to enrich people’s lives with love.”
In fact, Levin said choosing Indiana as the home of the church didn’t have anything to do with politics at all.
“We have a lot of fertilizer here, and we needed love to grow, so I planted love seeds and love is growing everywhere,” he said.
The church, which held its first service the same day RFRA went into effect, is controversial due to its views on cannabis, but Levin said he feels the congregation’s use of the drug is misunderstood.
“We do not worship cannabis,” he said. “We worship with cannabis.”
Even so, during the church’s first services, attendees have smoked cigarettes and cigars in lieu of marijuana. Levin said he does not want congregation members to be arrested; this is a battle to be fought in court.
The central teachings of the church, which has more than 47,000 likes on Facebook, are relayed to congregation members through the “Deity Dozen.”
These commandments instruct worshippers not to be assholes, to smile in the mornings, to treat their bodies as temples and to not be trolls on the Internet, among other things.
“I had a little talk with God, and He thought that those were the most outstanding things to share with the world,” Levin said of the list. “Each one has a preciousness to it.”
Levin said he has been surprised by the warm way the church’s teachings have been received across the country. The church easily received an IRS classification as a nonprofit and thus far has raised $16,630 in three months on its Go Fund Me page. This money is in addition to the funds raised through the church’s monthly $4.20 membership fee.
“Everybody in the world gets it,” Levin said. “Everybody understands the Deity Dozen and they respect it and they want to live by it.”
Levin said he hopes people who visit his church will leave happier and more loving than when they entered.
“Everybody needs to put three words into their daily vocabulary and those three words are ‘I love you.’”