High Court backs church in dispute over hallucinogenic tea
The First Amendment Center is reporting that the Supreme Court ruled unanimously today that a small congregation in New Mexico may use hallucinogenic tea as part of a four-hour ritual intended to connect with God.
Justices, in their first religious-freedom decision under Chief Justice John Roberts, moved decisively to keep the government out of a church's religious practice. Federal drug agents should have been barred from confiscating the hoasca tea of the Brazil-based church, Roberts wrote in Gonzales v. O Centro Espirita Beneficiente Uniao Do Vegetal.
The tea, which contains an illegal drug known as DMT, is considered sacred to members of O Centro Espirita Beneficiente Uniao do Vegetal, which has a blend of Christian beliefs and South American traditions. Members believe they can understand God only by drinking the tea, which is consumed twice a month at four-hour ceremonies.
New Justice Samuel Alito did not take part in the case, which was argued last fall before Justice Sandra Day O'Connor before her retirement. Alito was on the bench for the first time today.
Roberts said that the Bush administration had not met its burden under a federal religious-freedom law to show that it could ban "the sect's sincere religious practice."
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