The Washington Post reports,
The Supreme Court decided unanimously yesterday that the government cannot prohibit a small religious sect in New Mexico from using a hallucinogenic tea as part of its rites, ruling against the Bush administration in a case that pitted religious freedom against the nation’s drug control laws.
The ruling upheld findings by lower courts that the government failed to demonstrate a compelling interest in barring the Brazil-based sect, O Centro Espirita Beneficente Uniao do Vegetal, known as UDV, from using hoasca, a sacramental tea that contains a banned hallucinogen.
The UDV sect is presently led by Jeffrey Bronfman, second cousin of Jewish mega-philanthropist Edgar Bronfman, and grand-nephew of Edgar’s father, Samuel — a liquor baron who made his fortune during Prohibition.
In response to the news, Bronfman wrote on his website,
My dear supporters, family and friends;
At 1:44 pm Eastern Standard Time today, December 10th 2004, the entire Supreme Court of The United States convened and determined to deny the Department of Justice’s request for that Court’s further intervention in the UDV’s legal case. The stay that Justice Breyer had temporarily granted on December 1st is now vacated (lifted). The UDV, under Protective Order from the Federal District Court of New Mexico, (twice affirmed by the United States Court of Appeals) will now be free to practice our religion in this country.
It is my profound privilege and honor to share this good news with each of you. In a time where many have seen the increasing cultural influence of darkness, ignorance and intolerance, the Holy Light of Goodness has once again been affirmed. I extend my heartfelt thanks to each of you for your care, interest and most sincere support.
With Love and in Peace,
The Orthodox Union lauded the court’s decision:
The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations joins with all those who cherish religious liberty in applauding the Supreme Court’s unanimous recognition that we are a nation of diverse faiths and that different faiths require different accommodations for their religious practice. Congress recognized this when it enacted RFRA with broad bipartisan support. Thanks to Chief Justice Roberts and his colleagues, if the United States wishes to restrict this religious activity, it must return to court and concretely demonstrate that its compelling interest in drug enforcement cannot allow any exception in this kind of context. That is the right result under our First Amendment freedoms.
Didn’t see that coming!
I can’t precisely speak to UDV or even the ayahuasca experience directly, but feel free to check out “Jewish Ritual on the Edge: Deconstructing the Daime Shabbat” — my experience of one such ayahuasca cult’s attempt to cultivate a psychedelic Jewish ritual.