Friday, November 04, 2005

SCOTUS - "Hey bro, praise the Big Man Upstairs!"

I'm just joking of course, but these guys are not. To members of Uniao do Vegetal this is dead serious ... unless the suspicions of some are true. The New York Times reported ...
The Bush administration tried to persuade the Supreme Court on Tuesday that federal narcotics policy should trump the religious needs of members of a small South American church who want to import a hallucinogenic tea that is central to their religious rituals.
Syncretism is the word which describes the origin of their beliefs; syncretism is the harmonic blending of two or more divergent religious beliefs. Syncretism is a common fruit of Christianity when poorly introduced to people group which practices a native form of the spiritualism.
UDV President Jeffrey BronfmanTwo lower federal courts have barred the government from seizing the sacred drink, known as hoasca tea, which is brewed from indigenous Brazilian plants that do not grow in the United States. The tea's hallucinogenic effect comes from a chemical, dimethyltryptamine, usually known as DMT, which ... is listed as a Schedule I banned substance in the federal Controlled Substances Act.

The Supreme Court refused last year to lift the preliminary injunction issued by the federal district court in Albuquerque. But the justices did agree to hear the administration's appeal. As the major church-state clash of the court's new term, the case has drawn the attention of mainstream religious groups, including the Conference of Catholic Bishops, the National Association of Evangelicals and the American Jewish Committee.

These and numerous other organizations filed briefs on behalf of O Centro Espírita Beneficiente União do Vegetal, the 130-member American branch of a Brazilian church known by the initials U.D.V.
Decisions related to the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) are important to Americans who believe in a higher power. The government's past intrusion into the spiritual lives of its citizenry is legion. Consider for example this recent intrusion into our personal lives by a federal court ...
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled yesterday against parents who sued their local school district after their elementary-age children were given a sexually charged survey, saying there is "no fundamental right of parents to be the exclusive provider of information regarding sexual matters to their children."
However, such cases as Gonzales v. O Centro Espirita Beneficiente can also result in embarrassing compromises with clearly illegal activity. The case is reminiscent of Native American Church's desire to use peyote in the religious ceremonies. A weakness in UDV's argument seems to be the indigenous nature of peyote versus the need to import hoasca from Brazil in violation of an international treaty. See Associated Baptist Press News report for comments relevant to these aspects.

The PEW FORUM offers the following details as well as a pdf Legal Backgrounder ...
On November 1, 2005, the Supreme Court will [heard] oral argument in Gonzales v. O Centro Espirita Beneficiente Uniao Do Vegetal, a case that will determine whether the adherents of a religious group can continue to import and use an illegal drug in their worship services.

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

In 1999, federal agents in Santa Fe, N.M., seized a shipment of hoasca imported from Brazil for use in UDV religious ceremonies. An additional 30 gallons were confiscated when agents searched the house of church leader Jeffery Bronfman. No criminal charges were brought against Bronfman, the UDV or individual church members.

Eighteen months later the church sued the government in U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico and received a preliminary injunction preventing the confiscation of imported hoasca or the arrest of any UDV members using the drug while the district court trial was pending. UDV claims that the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) exempts them from any laws prohibiting the importation and use of hoasca. RFRA states that no federal law shall "substantially burden a person's exercise of religion" unless the government proves the law furthers a "compelling governmental interest" and that it has been implemented in a way that is "least restrictive" to religious practices.

The federal government counters that the courts cannot grant the church an exception to the nation's drug laws — in this case the 1970 Controlled Substances Act (CSA), which prohibits the use of DMT for any purpose. Furthermore, the government argues, the 1971 United Nations Convention on Psychotropic Substances (to which the United States is a party) requires the government "to prevent and combat abuse of [psychotropic] substances and the illicit traffic to which it gives rise."
Both parties dispute if hoasca is covered under the Convention (let alone the Act); if it is, authorizing its importation would put the United States in violation of an international treaty ... making our anti-drug effort appear as patent hypocrisy.

Blog Round-Up - Wednesday, November 2nd - SCOTUSblog
Gonzales v. O Centro Espirita Beneficiente - Drug WarRant
Oral Arguments Held In O Centro - Religion Clause
Supremes Contemplate Trippy Tea - RedState
Why I Agree Both with Smith and with RFRA - Volokh Conspiracy

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