Tuesday, November 01, 2005

First peyote, now ayahuasca

It took decades of legal struggle for the Native American Church to receive a highly qualified exemption to federal drug law that permitted its members to use the entheogen peyote during the church's meetings.

Now the Supreme Court is hearing argument in another case involving religion and an entheogenic substance.

The core of the case – what happens to the First Amendment right to freely exercise religion when it conflicts with federal law – could change the rules for every religious group in America. A wide variety of religious groups – from conservative to liberal – representing millions of members have filed briefs supporting O Centro Espirita Beneficiente Uniao Do Vegetal, or UDV as it is known.

Although ayahuasca has been used in Amazonia for centuries, probably millennia, our government thinks that we have to be protected from it. The Christian Science Monitor summarizes:

Congress determined that a categorical ban on this hallucinogenic substance was required to help protect the health and safety of Americans, including the followers of UDV, from detrimental effects, government lawyers say. "Religious motivation does not change the science," writes Solicitor General Paul Clement in his brief to the court.

The UDV's lawyer counters that even as the NAC has its exemption, so UDV should be treated likewise:

"The government's successful accommodation of the sacramental use of peyote, also a [banned] Schedule I substance, belies its claim that such substances require a categorical ban, even for religious use," Nancy Hollander, an Albuquerque lawyer representing the UDV, writes in her brief.

Ms. Hollander accuses the government of playing fast and loose with the facts in claiming there are adverse health effects to the group's use of sacramental tea. She says the only study of sacramental tea use "found no significant health concerns.

I will try to post more, and I expect that this blog will have something too.

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