Native American peoples have been fighting for their religious rights since colonization and their removal to reservations in the nineteenth century. One of the manifestations of this religious struggle was the use of peyote, a spineless cactus that has a hallucinogenic chemical called mescaline in it. In an effort to regain what had been lost to the White Europeans, some Native communities turned to new religious practices and ceremonies. The peyote religion started among Mexican tribes long before it was recorded among tribes north of the Mexican border. This religion spread slowly among Native Americans in the United States in the 1800s and then spread exponentially when unfamiliar tribes were forced together on reservations. Peyote usage among the Native Americans was highly debated by the United States government and made illegal in 1970 due to its hallucinogenic effects. Yet members of the Native American Church fought for the legal use of peyote under the American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978 and the First Amendment and eventually won. This victory allowed members of federally recognized tribes who are also practicing members of the Native American Church to use peyote in religious ceremonies. Religious groups without tribal affiliation, such as the Peyote Way Church of God, brought their cases to the courts for legal exemptions for peyote and lost.

Semester/Year of Award

Fall 2019


John P. Bowes

Mentor Professional Affiliation


Access Options

Restricted Access Thesis

Document Type

Bachelor Thesis

Degree Name

Honors Scholars

Degree Level



History, Philosophy, and Religious Studies

Department Name when Degree Awarded