This book celebrates the faith and endurance of the Native American Church, which now has many chapters throughout the nation, over 90 in Navajo country alone. Prayer meetings, the sacramental use of peyote, and the significance of various practices and objects are described in detail. Many branches have incorporated elements of Christianity, especially the teachings of Jesus Christ. The eloquent personal testimony offered by Church members from many different tribes demonstrates the vitality and sincerity of this religious tradition and makes it clear that peyote is not used to obtain “visions” but to heal the body and spirit and to teach righteousness. The authors give a full account of the peyote controversy and the prolonged legal battle to overturn the Supreme Court’s Smith decision of 1990, which cited peyote use as a pretext to deny the Native American Church the First Amendment right to “the free exercise of religion.”
Peyote meetings play a vital role in upholding the Native American Church’s high standard of morality, which emphasizes abstinence from alcohol, marital fidelity, truthfulness, meeting family obligations, economic self- sufficiency, and praying for the sick and for peace. Peyote, as used in prayer meetings, eliminates the craving for alcohol, the most widely abused drug in Indian country. The late Reuben Snake, a beloved political leader and elder of the Church, credited and wrote an introduction for this book but did not live to see the completion of what he worked so hard for: the passage of the American Indian Religious Freedom Act Amendments of 1994. This legislation provides an exemption from the provisions of the Smith decision that allows the use of peyote for sacramental purposes by the Native American Church but does not overturn the Smith decision itself. Justice Scalia’s majority opinion, that America’s religious diversity is a “luxury” that a pluralistic society “cannot afford,” jeopardizes the religious freedom of all Americans. This book is important reading for anyone who cares about religion and the individual’s freedom to worship according to the dictates of conscience.