The Roberts Court (2005–present)
What did the Roberts Court rule with respect to religious usage of hallucinogenic tea?
The Roberts Court unanimously affirmed a preliminary injunction preventing the federal government from enforcing a ban on a church’s use of a sacramental tea containing a hallucinogen in Gonzales v. O Centro Espirita Beneficiente Uniao do Vegetal (2006).
The case involved a Brazilian-based church (referred to as UDV) with approximately 130 members in the United States who drink hoasca, a tea containing a hallucinogen. The government seized several drums of the tea from a church member, claiming it violated federal drug control laws. The church then filed a lawsuit, saying that the government violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which imposes a high burden on government officials when they substantially infringe on a religious group’s exercise of their religious liberty rights.
The Court determined that, at this stage of the litigation, the government had failed to meet the RFRA’s high burden. Chief Justice John Roberts, in his second opinion on the Court, noted that Congress had granted a similar exception for religious drug usage in the American Indian Religious Freedom Act Amendments. “If such use is permitted … for hundreds of thousands of Native Americans practicing their faith, it is difficult to see how those same findings alone can preclude any consideration of a similar exception for the 130 or so American members of the UDV who want to practice theirs,” he wrote.