Thursday, November 03, 2005
Uniao do Vegetal (O Centro Espirita Beneficiente Uniao do Vegetal church or UDV) is a church which is known fundamentally for its usage of Hoasca (or Ayahuasca) as a sacramental entheogenic herbal tea. The 130-member American branch of this Brazilian church wants to import a sacramental hallucinogenic tea - banned from the U.S. because it is a Schedule I drug - but is key to their religious rituals.
We don’t know much about the church or why and how they use the hallucinogenic tea (Some answers can be found here). However, illegal narcotics and church and a Supreme Court with a history of restricting drugs all make for an interesting law/religion story that will certainly divide traditional political alliances in all sorts of interesting ways.
Rather than impacting First Amendment law, the case deals with a federal law that gives protections to religious exercise than what the Supreme Court had previously given. Two lower federal courts have barred the government from seizing the sacred drink. 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 recent appeal to trump the religious needs of this small South American church.
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. Now I find this curious since each of these organizations, among others, are filing briefs in support of the church.
There must be some mind-expanding stakes on the table!