Neo-American Church (Arthur Kleps)

A counterculture spiritual movement advocating LSD as a sacrament.

Founder: Arthur Kleps
Founded: 1965
Location: United States
Other Names: Boo-Hoo Bible Church, Neo-American Boohoo Church

The Neo-American Church was established in the mid-1960s by Arthur Kleps in Cranberry Lake, New York, arising from the American psychedelic movement and Timothy Leary’s circle. It functioned partly as an absurdist religion, partly as a psychedelic movement’s religious expression, and partly as a strategy to gain religious exemption from American drug laws, notably those prohibiting LSD. Church clergy, known as Boo Hoos, declared LSD a sacrament, emphasizing a unique blend of serious theology and cultural revolution despite incorporating whimsical elements like “Puff the Magic Dragon” as hymns. The church’s foundational texts include “The Boo Hoo Bible” and Kleps’ “Millbrook,” both pivotal in outlining its doctrine, which melds psychedelic experience, solipsistic nihilism, and social-political commentary on the psychedelic movement’s aspects​​.

The church sought to mirror the Native American Church’s legal victories in using peyote for religious ceremonies, aiming to gain legal permission to use LSD. This ambition culminated in a notable court case, United States vs. Kuch, where a minister of the Neo-American Church claimed LSD use as a religious requirement. However, the court ruled against protecting the church’s practices under the First Amendment, criticizing the church for lacking genuine religious discipline and using drugs for enjoyment rather than spiritual purposes​​.

The church’s principles, as described on its official website, advocate for the recognition of psychedelic substances as religious sacraments and basic human rights, emphasizing the use of such substances for enlightenment—a realization that life is a dream and external relations an illusion. Despite reaching its peak notoriety during the United States vs. Kuch case, the church persists into the 21st century as a minor, loosely organized entity​​.

Initially, the church’s by-laws didn’t explicitly mention psychedelics as sacraments, a tactical move likely aimed at maintaining Kleps’ employment as a school psychologist. This changed following his advocacy against harsh marijuana penalties, leading to his departure from his position and the establishment of the church’s initial headquarters at Morning Glory Lodge in New York’s Adirondack Mountains. The church embraced an irreverent and satirical approach, with clergy titled “Boo Hoos” or “Bee Hees” and a “Board of Toads” advisory board, including Timothy Leary and William Mellon Hitchcock. The church’s ethos, “Victory over Horseshit,” and its hymn “Row, Row, Row Your Boat,” reflect its absurdist foundation and commitment to a psychedelic vision of spirituality​​.

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