It is impossible to tell from this short news item the exact religious affiliation of the man who unsuccessfully sued the city of Berkeley over its outdoor smoking restrictions on the grounds that they violated his free exercise rights. His complaint uses the phrase “ indigenous faith, culture, and ancient social custom,” but for all I know that language is from some statute. His surname is Porter, which doesn’t exactly sound Chinook.

There is no earthly reason why this man’s ethnicity should matter, apart from a specific point of personal curiosity. You see, the person who said “Cigarettes are the modern equivalent of prayer” was French, and so was the smoking-themed magazine that bore the tagline “ Qui fume prie. ” The argument that French-ness qualifies as a deeply held worldview worthy of First Amendment protection is a fascinating one, and if this plaintiff gave that line a shot, I want a look at the transcript. I bet a good lawyer could get a judge to agree that smoking on the street is the French equivalent of a religious ritual.

Articles by Helen Andrews

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