The very First Amendment to the Constitution, the Free Exercise and Establishment Clauses, protected individuals from having beliefs and tenants imposed on them and being restricted in theirs. "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…. " It protected not only the right to believe (or not to believe), but also the right to express and to manifest religious beliefs. That means we have the right to act on our religious beliefs, unless those actions harm others. Another way of looking at it is the protection of free thinking and the creativity, ingenuity, and empowerment that would manifest materially and culturally manifestation from a free thinking people.
In a recent national survey in November 2011, 95% of respondents agree: "One of the main reasons America was founded was to enable all people of all faiths to have the freedom to believe and practice whatever religion they choose," 85% that "religious freedom" means that Americans "can practice their religion without interference from the government," and nine out of ten Americans (90%) say that religious freedom is an inherent right - not a privilege granted by government. According to the ACLU "These rights are fundamental and should not be subject to political process and majority votes."
The frontier of religious freedom today hangs on the issue of cognitive liberty. That is the right to the sacramental use of sacred objects and substances in religious ceremonies, ritual practices, rites and celebrations. The general use of such objects or substances has historically been prohibited or restricted by law, limiting the free exercise of religion in most cases. Even the Catholic Church, had to battle for exemption to laws prohibiting transportation or sale of alcohol in the US during the Prohibition in order to use their “sacramental wines” unencumbered. For other traditions, the battle for the use of their sacraments has been an ongoing one.
In the early 90's case Employment Division v. Smith the courts upheld the decision to deny two Native Americans unemployment benefits who were fired from their jobs after testing positive for mescaline, the main psychoactive compound in the peyote cactus, which which has been a common practice in Native American tribes for centuries. The case created large public outrage and turned the tides, resulting in the passing of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act; re-instituting the rule that religious freedom could only be constrained if the government had a constitutionally "compelling interest" in doing so and it was the least restrictive means of doing it. The act was amended in 2003 to only include the federal government and agencies though since then nearly half of the 50 states have adopted RFRA's of their own. (See map of states with RFRA's). Read more>>>
Various forms of dance, trance, vines brews and sacred plants have been used by mankind since before recorded history as a source of inspiration, connection, healing, and wisdom. a large number of discoveries and works have been attributed to these ancient sources of inspiration. Most notably those of Francis Crick, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Carl Sagan, W.B. Yeats, William Blake, Aldous Huxley, Herman Hesse, and medical discoveries like anesthetics were borrowed and modified from wisdom of amazonian shamans who claim their inspiration came from use of their sacrament.
On the front lines of cognitive liberty in the 21st century we have: The Native American Church, Centro Espírita Beneficente União do Vegetal (UDV), Santo Daime, and The Ambrosia Society.