WASHINGTON, DC, United States (UPI) -- The U.S. Supreme
Court Tuesday rejected government arguments against
use of a hallucinogenic tea in religious services.
8-0 ruling written by Chief Justice John Roberts stemmed
from a New Mexico case involving O Centro Espirita
Beneficente Uniao Do Vegetal, a Spiritst Christian
sect originating in the Amazon Rainforest. The court`s
newest justice, Sam Alito, did not take part in the
sect, which has about 130 members, brews a sacramental
tea from plants unique to the Amazon, containing hallucinogens
regulated by the Controlled Substances Act.
government argued no exceptions can be made to the
anti-drug law, even though it conceded the sect`s
use of the tea was a sincere expression of religious
do not doubt that there may be instances in which
a need for uniformity precludes the recognition of
exceptions to generally applicable laws under (the
Religious Freedom Restoration Act),' Roberts wrote.
'But it would have been surprising to find that this
was such a case, given the longstanding exemption
from the Controlled Substances Act for religious use
of peyote, and the fact that the very reason Congress
enacted RFRA was to respond to a decision denying
a claimed right to sacramental use of a controlled
2006 by United Press International
U.S. Supreme Court Says Church Can Use Hallucinogen
By Greg Stohr in Washington
21 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. Supreme Court, saying law
enforcement goals in some cases must yield to religious
rights, ruled that the Bush administration can't block
a New Mexico church from using a hallucinogenic tea.
a unanimous opinion written by Chief Justice John
G. Roberts Jr., the court said the 1993 Religious
Freedom Restoration Act protects the church, a 130-member
branch of a Brazilian denomination. The justices upheld
a preliminary injunction barring federal prosecution
of church leaders.
ruling in his first religious-freedom case, rejected
the Bush administration's contention that only a categorical
ban on the substance would adequately prevent abuse
and diversion to non-religious use.
government's argument echoes the classic rejoinder
of bureaucrats throughout history: If I make an exception
for you, I'll have to make one for everybody, so no
exceptions,'' Roberts wrote. He said Congress instead
required ``striking sensible balances between religious
liberty and competing prior governmental interests.''
said federal drug laws already make an exception that
lets Native American tribes use peyote in religious
case put the Bush administration in the unusual position
of opposing religious groups, including the U.S. Conference
of Catholic Bishops and the National Association of
Evangelicals, both of which backed the New Mexico
church. The government contended the tea, known as
hoasca, is dangerous and illegal.
church, O Centro Espirita Beneficiente Uniao Do Vegetal,
argued that its members believe the ritualistic use
of hoasca brings them closer to God. The church's
U.S. branch is led by Jeffrey Bronfman, a second cousin
of Warner Music Group Chairman Edgar Bronfman Jr.
Religious Freedom Restoration Act says the federal
government can't restrict religious activities except
to meet a compelling interest. The law applied to
the states as well until a 1997 Supreme Court decision
that said that aspect was unconstitutional.
as the law is known, was a response to a 1990 Supreme
Court decision that said generally applicable laws
in most cases need not make exceptions to accommodate
church practices. That ruling limited the scope of
the constitutional protection for religious freedom.
high court today concluded the Justice Department
hadn't met its burden under the 1993 law. The ruling
upheld a decision by a Denver-based federal appeals
Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. didn't take part in the
8-0 decision, which was argued Nov. 1, well before
his Senate confirmation.
case didn't directly concern the scope of the Constitution's
free-exercise clause, although the test laid out by
the 1993 law is similar to the standard used by the
Supreme Court before its 1990 decision.
contains dimethyltryptamine, or DMT, a hallucinogenic
substance restricted under the U.S. Controlled Substances
Act. The Justice Department says DMT can lead to depression,
intense anxiety, disorientation and psychosis and
that the drug is a particular danger to children who
are church members.
as the church is known, mixes Christian theology and
indigenous South American beliefs. Founded in 1961
by a rubber tapper, the religion has 8,000 members
in Brazil. Its name translates to The Union of Plants
Charitable Spiritual Center.
dispute between UDV and the government began in 1999,
when U.S. Customs inspectors intercepted a shipment
from Brazil of three drums that contained the drug.
Authorities later searched the Bronfmans' home and
seized 30 gallons of hoasca.
UDV then sued, seeking a court order barring the government
from enforcing federal drug laws against the church
or its leaders.
case is Gonzales v. O Centro Espirita Beneficiente
Uniao Do Vegetal, 04-1084.