A clash between the nation’s drug laws and a statute protecting religious liberty hits the Supreme Court tomorrow, says the Christian Science Monitor. The scope of the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) will be debated in an oral argument. The law requires the federal government to justify any measure that substantially burdens a person’s ability to practice his or her religion. The case involves a religious ceremony that requires consumption of a drug outlawed under the Controlled Substances Act.
If drug laws are found to trump religious protections, other laws might also be applied in ways that substantially erode religious freedom. If religion may be invoked to bypass the nation’s criminal laws, that could greatly complicate and undermine federal law-enforcement efforts. The case involves a religious sect of 130 members based in New Mexico. Adherents of the Brazil-based religion UDV, believes the use of sacramental tea in its ceremonies helps them connect with God; the tea, made from two sacred plants found in the Amazon region of Brazil, contains a hallucinogenic substance banned in the U.S. The Bush administration argues that the government has a compelling interest in the uniform enforcement of drug laws. The religious group says RFRA requires the government to make religious accommodations from criminal drug laws when accommodations are deemed appropriate after a case-by-case review.