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Marsy’s Law Get Passed in 6 U.S. States As A result Of The Midterm Elections

he six campaigns backing Marsy's Law this November all received the vast majority of their money either directly from Nicholas or from Marsy's Law for All

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Marsy's Law
Reporters gather at a news conference on the Crime Victims' Bill of Rights, also known as Marsy's Law for Illinois, in Springfield, Ill. VOA

The official website of the campaign supporting Amendment 6 in Florida featured a white-and-purple layout, filled with endorsements from local politicians and filmed testimonials from crime victims, who say their personal tragedies could have been prevented by the proposed legislation. The website was identical to others supporting Amendment 4 in Georgia, Question 1 in Nevada, and State Question 794 in Oklahoma.

The campaigns all linked back to the website for Marsy’s Law for All, a nonprofit organization driving what it calls the victims’ rights movement. It recruits and funds local efforts to incorporate Marsy’s Law, a controversial set of protections for crime victims, into state constitutions.

Six states had Marsy’s Law amendments on their ballots Tuesday, all of which passed. Five of these states now will alter their constitutions to include proposed changes that critics say are overly broad and harmful.

Marsy's Law
Rep. Lou Lang, Advocates Push Illinois Crime Victim Rights Constitutional Amendment. Flickr

Marsy’s Law encompasses a number of provisions based on the idea that victims should have equal rights to those of the accused in criminal proceedings. This includes requiring victims to be notified of proceedings involving their case and the release or escape of the accused; to be heard at plea or sentencing hearings; to obtain reasonable protection from the accused, and to be guaranteed a meaningful role in the criminal justice system.

Critics say the protections hamper the justice system through their vague wording, while undermining due process by pitting defendants’ rights, which are meant to protect defendants from the state, against those of victims. Notably, the American Civil Liberties Union opposes Marsy’s Law, calling it “poorly drafted” and “a threat to existing constitutional rights.”

Marsy’s Law for All national communications adviser Henry Goodwin told VOA News he had never heard a good example of a victim’s rights undermining a defendant’s rights.

Marsy's Law
Dr. Henry Nicholas, left, leads a march with a photo of his sister Marsy Nicholas during the Orange County Victims’ Rights March and Rally in Santa Ana, Calif., April 26, 2013. Nicholas is chief architect of Marsy’s Law. VOA

“The justice system is very adept at balancing rights within the system,” Goodwin said. “You know, the victim’s rights which Marsy’s Law advocates are complementary to defendant’s rights. We’re not seeking to undermine or take anything away from defendants. It’s not a zero-sum game.”

Marsy’s Law for All was formed in 2009 by Dr. Henry Nicholas, a former Broadcom CEO recently estimated by Forbes to be worth more than $3 billion. Marsy’s Law is named for his sister Marsalee, who was shot to death by her ex-boyfriend in 1983.

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After successfully spearheading a 2008 campaign to bring Marsy’s Law to California, Nicholas decided to form a national organization with the goal of bringing the amendments to all 50 states, and eventually the U.S. Constitution. Since then, Marsy’s Law amendments have passed in Illinois, the Dakotas and Ohio.

The movement, on a state and national level, is funded by Nicholas’ personal wealth. The six campaigns backing the Law this November all received the vast majority of their money either directly from Nicholas or from Marsy’s Law for All, which Goodwin confirmed to VOA News is entirely funded by Nicholas. In total, the six campaigns amassed a war chest of $60 million. Roughly $30 million was spent in Florida alone. (VOA)

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“They Don’t Make Prayerful Offerings When They Harvest,” Story Of The Native American Church

“The extraordinary and the phenomenon are not necessarily unexpected, but they are definitely not precluded.”

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The sun sets over the gateway of peyotera Amada Cardenas's house in Mirando City, Texas. Ironwork reflects core Native American Church values of faith, hope, love and charity. VOA

Back in the day, when the “grandmas and grandpas” of the Native American Church (NAC) needed peyote, they would make a 2,000-kilometer pilgrimage from the reservations of South Dakota to the tiny town of Mirando City, Texas, close to the U.S. border with Mexico. That’s where they could find Amada Cardenas, a Mexican-American woman who at the time was the only peyote dealer in Texas.

Cardenas was not Native American, nor was she a member of the NAC. But she understood how sacred the medicine was to church members and defended its use as a religious sacrament to those who sought to ban it.

Amada Cardenas, holding a basket of peyote, outside of her home in Mirando City, Texas, 1994.
Amada Cardenas, holding a basket of peyote, outside of her home in Mirando City, Texas, 1994. VOA

“After Amada’s passing, the peyote distribution system lost heart and seemed to be about monetary compensation,” said Iron Rope, former chairman of the Native American Church of North America (NACNA) and today chairman of the NAC of South Dakota. He is concerned that the remaining three or four peyote dealers in Texas — all non-Native — don’t give “the medicine” the reverence they should.

“They don’t make prayerful offerings when they harvest,” Iron Rope said. “We’ve heard reports about intoxicated harvesters. Sometimes, the medicine that comes to us was mushy or small, and the harvesting technique was not one that would allow regrowth.”

Careless and sometimes illegal harvesting, along with increased land and resource development in Texas, has led to a decline in peyote’s quality and availability. Prices have gone up, and church members worry the cactus, now listed as a vulnerable species, could become endangered.

In 2013, NACNA began researching ways to conserve peyote and its natural habitat.

Lophophora williamsii, more commonly known as peyote, which grows in the wild in southern Texas and Mexico.
Lophophora williamsii, more commonly known as peyote, which grows in the wild in southern Texas and Mexico. VOA

Pan-Native religion

Peyote, or Lophophora williamsii, is a succulent that contains psychoactive alkaloids and only grows in southern Texas and a handful of states in northern Mexico.

Indigenous people have used it ceremonially and medicinally for centuries, as noted by 16th century Spanish missionaries, who condemned it as an evil. Peyote use persisted, however, and by the late 1800s, had spread to present-day Oklahoma, where tribes adapted it to suit their individual spiritual traditions.

In the face of government efforts to ban peyote, peyotists in the early 20th century sought to incorporate as a formal religion. In 1918, an intertribal group established the NAC, which has evolved to include tens of thousands of members across dozens of tribal nations. Members view the church as an important component of healing from historic trauma and reconnecting to tradition.

Peyote was banned in the United States in 1970, but the law was later amended to allow peyote to be used in “bona fide religious ceremonies of the Native American Church.”

Texas allows several peyoteros registered with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency to harvest and sell peyote, but only to card-carrying NAC members with proven Native American ancestry.

Peyote buttons are shown in the yard of a peyote dealer in Rio Grande, Texas, Oct. 12, 2007.
Peyote buttons are shown in the yard of a peyote dealer in Rio Grande, Texas, Oct. 12, 2007. VOA

‘A beautiful ceremony’

Unlike other religious denominations, said Iron Rope, the NAC is not a unified theology.

“Different variations of the ceremony have come into play,” he said. “There are Christian aspects to the NAC today and traditional aspects, as well.”

Wynema Morris, a member of the Omaha Tribe of Nebraska and an NAC member, grew up with an understanding of the sacredness of peyote and the religious etiquette surrounding its use.

“It was my own grandfather, Samuel Thomas Gilpin, who actually received peyote early on from the Winnebagos, a neighboring tribe, and passed it on to his sons, my uncles,” she said.

This 1924 photo by Edward S. Curtis is entitled "Cheyenne Peyote Leader." Courtesy: Library of Congress.
This 1924 photo by Edward S. Curtis is entitled “Cheyenne Peyote Leader.” Courtesy: Library of Congress. VOA

Peyote is much misunderstood and maligned, she said, viewed by many anthropologists through the lens of colonial prejudice.

“I don’t like their use of the word ‘hallucinations,’” she said. “You don’t use peyote to get high. You use it to pray and communicate with God — the same God everyone else talks to.”

She described all-night services of prayer, song and meditation.

“The ceremony is beautiful,” she said. “The extraordinary and the phenomenon are not necessarily unexpected, but they are definitely not precluded.”

Sacred gardens

In 2013, NACNA began looking at ways to conserve and sustain peyote for future generations of indigenous Americans, Mexicans and Canadians.

“It was our intent to eventually have our own land and be able to have our own peyote dealer who could understand our concerns as the Native American Church,” said Iron Rope.

The sun sets over "the 605," acreage in Thompsonville, Texas, which the Indigenous Peyote Conservation purchased in 2018 for the conservation of peyote, a sacrament of the Native American Church.
The sun sets over “the 605,” acreage in Thompsonville, Texas, which the Indigenous Peyote Conservation purchased in 2018 for the conservation of peyote, a sacrament of the Native American Church. VOA

In 2017, NACNA and partner organizations formally launched the Indigenous Peyote Conservation Initiative (IPCI). With funding from the Riverstyx Foundation, a nonprofit that supports research of medicinal uses of psychoactive plants, IPCI purchased 245 hectares (605 acres) of land in Thompsonville, Texas, to serve as “Sacred Peyote Gardens.”

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It is their hope that by 2021, “the 605” will house a nursery, residential and guest housing, and youth training, all supported by peyote sales.

“It’s about generations to come,” said Iron Rope. “To reconnect them to the land and to the medicine. And that’s the healing process that we’ve been missing.” (VOA)