Tea for 130

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Today the Supreme Court unanimously told federal drug warriors to back off and let American adherents of O Centro Espirita Beneficiente Uniao Do Vegetal use the psychedelic tea ayahuasca in their rituals. The Court agreed with the district judge and the 10th Circuit that punishing members of the church for possession of their sacrament violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. As I said in my column on the case, I'd rather that adults be free to use psychedelics (or any other currently illegal drug) even when their motivation is not religious, but I'll take what I can get.

Like the medical marijuana controversy, another issue involving special exemptions from the drug laws, this case illustrates the blind orthodoxy of diehard prohibitionists (even "compassionate conservatives") who are willing to sacrifice things they supposedly value, such as compassion for the sick and respect for religious freedom, on the altar of pharmacological correctness. Bloomberg News notes that "the case put the Bush administration in the unusual position of opposing religious groups, including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the National Association of Evangelicals, both of which backed the New Mexico church."

NEXT: The Kidney-Uterus Connection

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  1. I wonder what Republicans would do if someone tried to prohibit (Christian) churches from administering communion (wine) without first asking for an i.d. check for anyone under 30? Or arrest the clergy for distributing alcohol to a minor?

    Note to the unaware: churches routinely administer communion to any “confirmed” Christian, and many/most are confirmed between roughly the ages of anywhere from 10-14 years old.

  2. Wrong — once the chalice has been blessed it ain’t wine any more — it’s blood, dude!

    I don’t know of any law that prohibits the serving of blood to minors. Can’t imagine there would be one. Mainly because nobody would think to outlaw it.

  3. juggles:

    I don’t have a wide bredth of knowledge on this subject, just my own accounts:

    I’m an avowed agnostic…but my parents sent me to catholic private school through 5th grade, because it was better education than public. Anyway, we were herded into “mass” every friday morning. During any and all communions, they only served wine to adults. Anyone who looked like they were under 25 only got those little styrofoam communion discs. Jussoyaknow.

  4. “Sorry officer, but my religion requires that I snort this coke five times a day.”

    I got wine when I went up for communion, and I know I was underage cos I stopped going to church when I was 11.

  5. Unanimous ruling? Wow.

  6. Actually I think its worse when they do things like this. That is when they pass bad laws then make exceptions due to special circumstances. It puts judges in the position of having to decide whose religion is valid, as well as letting people avoid the burdens of the bad laws.

    The best remedy for bad law is to enforce it.

  7. Unanimous and correct opinion. Gee, I thought Ralph Nees and his ilk had told us that if Roberts were confirmed to the Court the dark night of fascism would be upon us.

  8. I seem to recall that several years ago a group tried to get pot approved as part of their religion. My recollection was that they were turned down by the courts. Any one remember the details of that?

    Who decides what constitutes a religion anyway?
    I would hope the government does not get to decide what is a religion and what is not. But, apparently, that is how things work. Are only “established” religion (with historical and/or anthropological documentation) acceptable to the government? Does that mean that no new religion can EVER be founded?

    I guess they do not mind if your religion involves chanting at sunrise, but mind very much if hallucinogens are involved. Which contradicts their requirement for historical documentation since the use of hallucinogens in religious and shamanistic functions is anthropologically well documented (ayahuasca being only one example).

    As usual, I agree with Jacob. In the current anti-freedom environment, you take what you can.

  9. Actually I think its worse when they do things like this. That is when they pass bad laws then make exceptions due to special circumstances.

    It angers me that the only thing that can get them to let up on the drug war–and all its attendant corpses and other wrecked lives–is to pander to some stupid religion. No offense 🙂

  10. I think this was an especially good ruling for the defenders of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and it’s always a good thing when a court recognizes some limitations on the way the Controlled Substances Act can be applied.
    I also really liked that Robert’s opinion found that ayahuasca WAS included in the list of banned substances under the U.N.’s treaty on psychotropic substances, but also found that fact alone is not enough to trump the RFRA and American law.

  11. “Sorry officer, but my religion requires that I snort this coke five times a day.”

    From the CNN article: “Roberts said that the Bush administration had not met its burden under a federal religious freedom law to show that it could ban ‘the sect’s sincere religious practice.'”

    I don’t know if that’s Robert’s quote or a quote from the law (or both), but I think there has to be a degree of sincerity in your religious beliefs for it to be legal, which kind of, but I guess not completely, closes that loophole. Either way, it’s BS, how would I know if there’s a god if I can’t drop acid to find out?

  12. I have to agree that this is actually a step back, in that it’s akin to gay marriage. Instead of the government stepping back from realms where it should not be, it is instead granting exceptions for some and not for others. As Andrew said, let the law be enforced for all, and if the law is bad, let’s rescind said law. Carving out exceptions for laws only grants legitimacy to the law, because now the government can say “but, we’re not entirely heartless…we let people who worship get away with it”. My problem is, if they can get away with it, why can’t I? Do I have to become religion x so my rights aren’t trampled anymore?

  13. I think there has to be a degree of sincerity in your religious beliefs for it to be legal, which kind of, but I guess not completely, closes that loophole.

    So what the ruling really boils down to is proving that my “religious faith” is “sincere”? Sheesh, those are *just* the sorts of decisions I want my government to be making….

  14. BenN

    The Wickens have been recognized by courts all over the country. Despite their claims to the contrary, it is a new religion created in the last forty years or so. So it is possible for a new religion to be created. The test seems to be that you have a sincere belief and are not using it as a subterfuge to conduct otherwise religious activity and that the activity is not so heinous as to justify government intervention, i.e. you could not use religion to justify human sacrifice.

  15. Ayn:
    Maybe we need to establish such contradictions to help carve a path back to sanity. I’m not saying it’s right or good, but on a political path (and not an integrity one), this may be a step in the right direction.

  16. If historical documentation is a requirement, does that prohibit the creation of new religions?

  17. Anyone find it ironic that the only time everyone here isn?t burning ?religion? in effigy is when it suddenly provides an interesting angle on getting wasted? Now everyone?s got religion ?

    Getting high *is* religion, in any case. And I don?t mean that in a cute way. I mean literally. People do drugs for the same basic reasons they worship the divine. Communal intoxication is one form of worship. Doing acid and watching teletubbies? well, ok, forget what I was saying.

    Anyway, debating whether a religion is ?sincere? or not wouldn?t hold muster if the law was challenged I don?t think?. I mean if anyone managed to get it appealed up to a review.
    I would argue that the 700 Club probably doesn?t strike those Indians as particularly sincere (?so?when do they drink the yage and dance with their power animal??), and that its not the mandate of the Gov to make this kinds of determinations in any case.

  18. Half-serious thought: What if a group of people decided to worship the Founders of the US? Could they declare the Constitution to be their holy book, insist on a particular interpretation, and declare that enforce laws that contradict their interpretation is a violation of their religious freedom?

    I always knew the semi-religious fervor of the LP would be good for something…. 🙂

  19. It angers me that the only thing that can get them to let up on the drug war–and all its attendant corpses and other wrecked lives–is to pander to some stupid religion. No offense 🙂

    I dunno if anyone was really “pandering”.
    The elected officials (the Bush admin) actually opposed the use of the hallucinogenic.

    The judiciary merely upheld the Constitution. I don’t believe this would qualify as a “pander to some stupid religion”

  20. I think Rhywun has a good point, this isn’t a step forward because now government has legally established it’s hand in determining what the legitimate tenets of religious faith are. I hate to say it, but we should emulate France when it comes to this: enforce our laws, period, and when enough people get mad we can change them. But don’t exempt people from following laws through some kind of contorted “application process”.

  21. Half-serious thought: What if a group of people decided to worship the Founders of the US? Could they declare the Constitution to be their holy book, insist on a particular interpretation, and declare that enforce laws that contradict their interpretation is a violation of their religious freedom?

    Hey! That is delightfully … ah, what’s the word I want … recursive???

    But for it to happen, the adherents would have to be able to pass the test when they are hooked up to a sincerometer.

  22. Thoreau,

    That’s classic man. I mean Flying Spaghetti Monster classic. I sure I wish I’d thought of it. Here’s to a completely idiotic law becoming more and more riddled with contradictions and exceptions until, at last, it collapses under its own weight like in Jenga.

  23. Ayahuasca is nasty stuff. Projectile vomiting is the least of the physical symptoms.

    You’d have to be a true believer to take it (more than once, anyway).

  24. Evan,

    I was confirmed in my Lutheran church around the age of 14 or so, and I was then allowed full communion, including the crap they called wine. You didn’t miss much.

  25. eric-

    Of course, the first adherents of this church would be staunch libertarians. Which means that there would immediately be schisms. The Jeffersonians and Reformed Jeffersonians wouldn’t even talk to each other, although they’d all agree that the Orthodox Jeffersonians totally suck! And then there’d be the Franklinites, Madisonians, Radical Franklinites, Orthodox Madisonians, Washingtonians, Washingtoniennes (who are just in it for the drugs and sex), Radical Washingtonians, etc.

  26. thoreau don’t forget about the Hamiltonians. They’d start “Church of Publius” (inclusive with Jay, Morris, Madison, etc.) and hand out the Federalist Papers at the start of every service.

  27. Thoreau,

    Then a millenia or so down the road we’d have a Hayekian Reformation with it’s Nozickian and Friedmanian theological interpretations of scripture– the more fundamental of course being Friedmanianism. Not to mention the Rothbardists out in the wilds re-baptising their members into the government of the Market solely without intermediary institutions. Yeah, I’m definitely in. Are we tithing?

  28. Let’s not forget the Objectivists. I suspect they woud launch some sort of crusade. Or just build really funny looking churches with sexy statues in them.

  29. Fortunately, although I am an Objectivist, I am not one of the humorless ones:

    Of course, we would have all kinds of people vying to be the pope of Objectivism…Leonard Peikoff would declare himself as such, but David Kelly would instantly nail the 95 “rational principles” to his California door. Ayn Rand wouldn’t want to be worshipped per se, so I am having a hard time figuring out if this is the year 101 Annus Ayn Rand (since she was born in 1905) or if we should take the publication date of Atlas Shrugged and call it “year such and such, in the Name of Objectivism”).

    The next step, of course, would be to get the Army to recognize it so I could become a chaplain in it. The problem? One of the seven Army values is “Selfless Service”. Ack!

  30. thoreau,

    We can even write some bogus history with lots of juicy infighting already under the bridge to lend legitimacy to it. We could even say that it is this long established secret society that has only recently been outed by disaffected apostates who are no longer cowed by our politically impotent threats.

    If we can only get Trey and Matt to do a juicy expose episode of our weirdness and our bizarre drug-induced sacraments.

  31. Ayn_Randian,

    Bah! We could get a conscientious objector exemption for you on that one! They wouldn’t want to violate your religious rights.

  32. I am wondering if the effects of ayahuasca were considered in this ruling. If, instead of inducing a hellacious puke, it brought on a three hour long sense of orgasmic euphoria, would it have remained against the law?

  33. I say that Washington should be the first pope in this revisionist history, only he never cared enough to accept or decline the honor. Upon his death, his corpse presided as pope for another ten years….

  34. The ruling, as I understand it, allows the particular rituals in which these people use that drug. Members of the church still can’t toke up in their spare time.

    This makes the religious line a lot clearer. You can’t just snort coke and pretend it’s part of your religion, but if you have a holy book and once a week prostrate yourself ten times, snorting between each one while chanting mystical phrases, and do it long enough, and get some friends to as well, you might be allowed to do that once a week.

  35. Yeah, I’m definitely in. Are we tithing?

    You’re kidding right? Tithing is of course optional, although it is tax free. 🙂

  36. John:
    “Unanimous and correct opinion. Gee, I thought Ralph Nees and his ilk had told us that if Roberts were confirmed to the Court the dark night of fascism would be upon us.”

    The lower amendments are relatively safer. Wait until they start talking about the fourth, fifth, sixth amendments… The higher up you go, the more screwed you are until you get to this clincher:

    “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

    They just love that one!

  37. So now we need an atheist to volunteer to get arrested for drug use, and then challenge drug laws under the “Equal Protection” clause.

    “How come only the religious get to do this?”

    I imagine s/he’d still lose, but the rhetorical pretzels the Court would have to produce would be illuminating, I imagine. Note that I’m not volunteering to be said atheist.

  38. Also, I appear to really like the phrase “I imagine,” I imagine.

  39. Could it be the reason we got number one of the Bill of Rights thought up in the first place is an acknowledgent of how silly religion is? Folks have been drinking “blood” for going on three millenia. Before that, they were into golden calves and whatnot… oak trees, etc.
    What I continue to fail to grasp is that, if we need to get some “blood” into our bodies, why haven’t we given ourselves the legal latitude to get some meth into our bodies?
    Would meth “tea” fly, or, at least allow some of us to fly?
    How about meth green tea?
    Could calling an end to the War on Drugs be as simple as a little “rebranding”?

  40. Psychedelic tea kitchens in the inner cities could be the most positive faith-based initiative yet!
    Let’s soar with it!

  41. you might be allowed to do that once a week.

    Once a week is enough for me. Of course, I have to find some way to convey to the authorities that my religion’s rituals all take place within my head. Except for snorting the coke.

    The judiciary merely upheld the Constitution. I don’t believe this would qualify as a “pander to some stupid religion”

    How is it not pandering? Would you prefer the word “favoritism”? The justices are saying that only certain faiths are allowed to participate in certain mind-altering activities. If this drug is so horrible, why allow practitioners of this faith to take it at all? The real meaning of this ruling is that our drug laws are nonsensical — to be applied at whim. So maybe it’s a good thing, to give the lie to our drug war. But I don’t like when our government plays favorites.

  42. During alcohol prohibition (1920-1933) there was an awful lot of medicinal liquor prescribed and communal wine consumed.

  43. The justices are saying that only certain faiths are allowed to participate in certain mind-altering activities.

    I think all the court was saying was that the RFRA passed by Congress provides a clear exception to the CSA, and that the government provided no strong rationale for why the CSA should take precedence. If Congress provides another exception , hopefully the court would uphold that exception as well. It seems like a pretty clear cut decision, and a good (talking judicial here, not political) conservative ruling that doesn’t try to legislate from the bench. A stark contrast to Raich, where the logic of the majority was fairly strained, especially when compared to the eloquent dissents.

    On a personal level, I gotta admit I have complained before about the hostility many commenters on here have to religion. To see an exception to one of the most maligned (and rightfully so) pieces of legislation carved out and given to a church, well, sweet doesn’t quite do justice to the feelings I get reading some of the comments. 🙂 Irony, it makes the world go ’round!

  44. It just bothers me that if you have strong faith in some form of god, you get an exception, but if you have strong faith in yourself, others or the idea that people should have choice of what goes in their bodies, then you get the shaft. The government is essentially saying that faith in a god matters more than the law. That idea should bother more than it seems to, especially here.

  45. Ayn Randian-

    The special status of religion may not be fair, but it’s set forth in the 1st amendment. Religious freedom, like a handful of other freedoms, is explicitly protected. Our other freedoms are, alas, only implicitly protected by the 9th and 10th amendments.

  46. Our other freedoms are, alas, only implicitly protected by the 9th and 10th amendments.

    Thus to legislators, non-existent. Actually, since they’re not so good at respecting the explicitly named rights, it should come as not surprise that they say things like “You don’t have a ‘right to X‘. X= what we’d like to outlaw this week.

  47. On a personal level, I gotta admit I have complained before about the hostility many commenters on here have to religion.

    I would be less hostile to religion if it kept to itself, stopped being the cause of much grief, pain and shame in the world, and stopped using itself to gain favors from the government.

  48. I don’t have anything at all against religion– quite the contrary. I just question the logic that allows one group of people to get together and call themselves a religion with specific rights and rituals but not another. Why, legally speaking, can’t some hippie smoking pot in his apartment be a religious rite? What if some homosexuals wanted to start a religion wherein all the members are married to the other? Anyway, that’s just what everyone else is saying so I’m not being very original so I’ll shut up.

  49. It would be fun to see if the Mormons use the RFRA to get back legalized polygamy. That would be quite the dog and pony show to behold.

    I wonder if the National Association of Evangelicals would touch that lighting rod with a 10 foot pole.

  50. Rock is my religion and Judas is my priest.

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