Wednesday, November 02, 2005

It's in the tea

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- As they heard oral arguments Nov. 1 in a case over a religious group's use of a federally prohibited tea in its rituals, the Supreme Court justices seemed inclined to support the Religious Freedom Restoration Act on which the church's case is premised.

The Brazilian-based church, O Centro Espirita Beneficiente Uniao Do Vegetal, known as UDV, has only about 140 members in the United States. The case began in 1999 after U.S. Customs agents seized a shipment of hoasca tea, which is used by the church's followers in sacramental rituals that are derived from Amazonian spiritual traditions and Christian theology.

The tea is made from plants that contain dimethyltryptamine, a hallucinogen known as DMT, which the federal government classifies as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act. Lower federal courts ruled in favor of the church, saying that the government failed to prove a compelling interest in prohibiting its members from using a controlled substance.

Read the complete article Religious rights, international treaty at issue in church tea case from Catholic News Service.

Further down, there is this:

From the direction of their questions, most of the Supreme Court justices seemed to be trying to support the church's right to use hoasca, though they struggled with federal obligations under an international drug control treaty and whether the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, known as RFRA, trumps those commitments.

At the most basic level, the Free Excercise clause trumps treaties signed by the US. RFRA should in this case be the governing law, since drug control is not an explicitly constitutionally granted power of the US while the free exercise of one's religion is an explicit right under the First Amendment. But I have no real qualifications in constitutional law... Feel free to dissect my opinion.

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