Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
WASHINGTON — A small Christian group’s drinking of ceremonial tea could be curtailed if the Bush administration has its way before the Supreme Court. The administration is challenging the New Mexico group — O Centro Espirita Beneficiente Uniao Do Vegetal — and its practice of drinking hoasca, a sacred herbal tea that members believe connects them to God. The tea contains dimethyltryptamine (DMT), a controlled substance under the Controlled Substances Act and one the administration claims is banned by international treaty. The Supreme Court will decide whether to hear the case, Gonzales v. O Centro Espirita Beneficiente Uniao Do Vegetal, No. 04-1084, at its Friday conference. O Centro Espirita was founded in Brazil in 1961. The tea, hoasca, which in the Quechuan Indian language means “vine of the soul,” “vine of the dead” and “vision vine,” comes from the Amazon rainforest. Members drink the tea at least two times a month during ceremonies. Approximately 130 members of the church reside in the United States, 8,000 in Brazil. Brazil, a member of the international treaty at issue, has exempted hoasca from its controlled substances list. But the Bush administration claims that no such exemption should exist in the United States. The administration is arguing that the high court should overturn a November 2004 en banc ruling from the Tenth Circuit U.S Court of Appeals that affirmed an earlier injunction prohibiting the administration from enforcing the Controlled Substances Act and the United Nations Convention on Psychotropic Substances. The Tenth Circuit’s ruling is grounded in the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which protects individuals from governmental interference in the exercise of religion. Congress passed the act after the Supreme Court, in the 1990 case Employment Division v. Smith, affirmed Oregon’s prohibition on Native Americans’ use of peyote and marijuana for religious purposes, ruling that the First Amendment free exercise clause afforded them no protection. And although the Supreme Court struck down part of the RFRA in the 1997 case City of Boerne v. Flores, the act still applies to federal laws such as the Controlled Substances Act. Under the RFRA, the government must show that it has a “compelling governmental interest” in restricting the religious practice and that the interest is fulfilled in the “least restrictive” way. The Tenth Circuit ruled that the government had not proved that use of the tea, which contains 25 mg of DMT per typical serving, would lead to adverse health effects or abuse of the drug outside of a religious context. In its appeal to the Supreme Court, the Bush administration argues that Congress already determined that DMT is a Schedule I drug (meaning that it is prohibited in all circumstances except for research) and that it is harmful to a person’s health. The Tenth Circuit decision, the government argues, second-guesses Congress. “The court of appeals — unlike every court of appeals before it — fundamentally disregarded Congress’ expert judgment that Schedule I controlled substances have profoundly adverse health effects and an elevated potential for abuse and diversion,” Acting Solicitor General Paul Clement writes in the government’s brief. Clement also claims that if the injunction stands, “scores if not hundreds of persons, including minors . . . [will] continue to put their physical and psychic well-being in serious jeopardy.” The government also contends that the injunction forces it to violate the United Nations Convention on Psychotropic Substances. The convention, to which the United States is a signatory, also classifies DMT as a Schedule I drug. Lawyers from Freedman Boyd Daniels Hollander & Goldberg of Albuquerque, N.M., who are arguing for O Centro Espirita, say that the government failed to prove its case under the compelling interest standard. They write that the government “does not fairly summarize the facts” and that evidence shows the tea does not cause health problems or lead to drug abuse. This is just the type of case in which religious practice should be exempted from government interference, says John Boyd, a lawyer for O Centro Espirita. He draws an analogy between this case and a hypothetical one in which the government reinstitutes Prohibition. “Under [the RFRA], the Catholic Church would be able to say, ‘We have to be able to conduct mass, and we need wine in order to do that,’ ” says Boyd. “ The courts would say [that] unless the government can show that it had a genuine compelling interest of preventing the Catholic Church from using wine as its sacrament, then the Catholic Church would prevail under RFRA if it challenged Prohibition.” Boyd also argues that the U.N. treaty doesn’t apply. “The treaty recognizes that there may be laws like RFRA, for example, that preclude the application of this treaty,” he says. Furthermore, lawyers for O Centro Espirita point out in their brief that the government allows certain religious uses of peyote in the Native American Church: “The government has never attempted to explain how it can ask the courts to ignore the [Native American Church's] possession, distribution, and ritual use of peyote while claiming that [O Centro Espirita's] similar use of hoasca must be conclusively presumed to be a menace to society.” In 1994, Congress amended the American Indian Religious Freedom Act to say that Native Americans’ use of peyote for ceremonial purposes was lawful and could not be prohibited by law. Other Cases Up for ReviewNagy v. FMC Butner, No. 04-530: Whether a prisoner’s in forma pauperis suit brought against a federal medical center for losing his $25 sweatsuit is a frivolous claim because of the de minimus value sought. � Domino’s Pizza Inc. v. McDonald, No. 04-593: Whether Domino’s president and sole shareholder may sue under 42 U.S.C. �1981 (forbidding racial discrimination in making and enforcing contracts) for personal injuries even though he was not a formal party to the contract with defendant, McDonald. � Lockyer v. Kennedy, No. 04-679: Whether a federal court’s ruling granting a defendant habeas corpus relief was correct, where the state court in a retrial failed to provide the defendant with a complete transcript of his previous trial. � Ozmint v. Hall, No. 04-808: Whether defense counsel was ineffective under Strickland v. Washington and Payne v. Tennessee when counsel failed to object to the prosecutor’s request that the jury weigh the worth of the murder victims’ lives against the life of the defendant and whether the 14th Amendment bars such references in a capital case. � Illinois Central Railroad Co. v. Smallwood, No. 04-831: Whether an exception exists to the fraudulent joinder rule. � California v. Hanks, No. 04-847: Whether a passenger’s consent and later written waiver of Fourth Amendment rights permits the officers’ actions, where officers who had no knowledge of a car passenger’s status stopped the vehicle and searched the passenger. � Oregon v. Guzek, No. 04-928: Whether a capital defendant has the right under the Eighth and 14th amendments to offer evidence and argument supporting a residual doubt claim, which compels the jury in the penalty phase proceeding of a capital case to consider doubt about the defendant’s guilt. � United States v. Shoshone Indian Tribe, No. 04-929: Whether the Native American tribe may sue the United States for tribal trust funds arising from the government’s management of sand and gravel resources on its reservation. � Patel v. Gonzales, No. 04-948: Where the court stayed the removal of an Indian immigrant but the government deported her anyway, whether the court of appeals erred in dismissing the immigrant’s claim, and whether case should have been remanded. � Carpenters Health and Welfare Trust for Southern California v. Vonderharr, No. 04-1049: Where the Employee Retirement Income Security Act’s trust paid out medical expenses for an injured family, whether the trust has a right to reclaim money after the family settled a personal injury suit, and whether the court’s dismissal and fee determinations were correct. � Georgia v. Randolph, No. 04-1067: When two individuals occupy premises, whether one may give law enforcement consent to search common areas of premises even though the other party objects. � Stavropoulos v. Firestone, No. 04-1099: What type of employer conduct constitutes actionable retaliation against a public employee under the First Amendment and 42 U.S.C. � 1983? What type of employer conduct constitutes “adverse employment action” under Title VII in a retaliation suit? This column seeks to identify cases on the Supreme Court’s conference agenda that are leading candidates for Supreme Court review or that raise significant national issues. Thomas Goldstein of Washington, D.C.’s Goldstein & Howe selects these cases from the many petitions filed based on several factors, including whether lower courts have split on the issues presented. He does not otherwise participate in the preparation of this column. Marya Lucas is an editorial intern for Legal Times, a Recorder affiliate based in Washington, D.C.

This content has been archived. It is available through our partners, LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law.

To view this content, please continue to their sites.

Not a Lexis Advance® Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Not a Bloomberg Law Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Why am I seeing this?

LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law are third party online distributors of the broad collection of current and archived versions of ALM's legal news publications. LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law customers are able to access and use ALM's content, including content from the National Law Journal, The American Lawyer, Legaltech News, The New York Law Journal, and Corporate Counsel, as well as other sources of legal information.

For questions call 1-877-256-2472 or contact us at [email protected]

Reprints & Licensing
Mentioned in a Law.com story?

License our industry-leading legal content to extend your thought leadership and build your brand.


ALM Legal Publication Newsletters

Sign Up Today and Never Miss Another Story.

As part of your digital membership, you can sign up for an unlimited number of a wide range of complimentary newsletters. Visit your My Account page to make your selections. Get the timely legal news and critical analysis you cannot afford to miss. Tailored just for you. In your inbox. Every day.

Copyright © 2021 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.