Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Supreme Court Rules that Religious Group Can Use Illegal Drug in their Worship Services

Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life reports on yesterday's Supreme Court decision.
A unanimous Supreme Court ruled today that the adherents of a small religious group can continue, for now at least, to import and use an illegal drug in their worship services. The court, in a decision written by new Chief Justice John Roberts, held that the federal government had not adequately demonstrated that it had a compelling interest in banning what even federal prosecutors admit is a 'sincere religious practice.' …

The case involves a church, known as Uniao Do Vegetal or the Union of the Plants, that preaches a brand of "Christian spiritualism" that combines indigenous Brazilian beliefs with contemporary Christian teachings. A central tenet of the UDV faith is a belief that hoasca, a tea containing the illegal hallucinogenic drug diemethyltryptamine (DMT), is sacred and that its use connects members to God. …

[T]he government [had] argued that it had a compelling interest in protecting the health of UDV members and in preventing the recreational, non-religious or improper use and distribution of DMT. But the district court found that the government's interests in protecting health and preventing drug abuse did not trump the UDV's religious freedom to use hoasca.

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