Religious Use of Psychedelic Tea Is on Supreme Court’s Front Burner
The Supreme Court debated Tuesday whether to let a small congregation in New Mexico worship with hallucinogenic tea, the first religious freedom dispute under Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.
Justice Sandra Day O’Connor seemed skeptical of the Bush administration’s claim that the tea can be banned, but she may not be around to vote in the case.
About 130 members of a Brazil-based church have been in a long-running dispute with federal agents who seized their tea in 1999. The hoasca tea, which contains an illegal drug known as DMT, is considered sacred to members of O Centro Espirita Beneficiente Uniao do Vegetal.
The Bush administration contends the tea is not only illegal but potentially dangerous.
The Supreme Court has dealt with religious drug cases before. Justices ruled 15 years ago that states could criminalize the use of peyote by American Indians. But Congress changed the law to allow the sacramental use of peyote in tribal services.
O’Connor pointed out during Tuesday’s argument that Congress changed the rules. She interrupted the Bush administration lawyer in his opening statement and peppered him with difficult questions.