Thursday, February 23, 2006

High Court, High Tea, High Time

Nothing like a conservative Supreme Court to protect the rights of a hundred or so Christian spiritists whose brand of Christianity includes the drinking of hallucinogenic tea. The group, called O Centro Espirita Beneficente Uniao do Vegetal, is a Brazilian based Christian sect with 130 members living in greater Santa Fe, New Mexico.

The Justice Department sought to ban the sect’s use of hoasca, a tea made from a plant found only in the Amazon. The plant contains a mind-altering drug the US government bans as a controlled substance. Chief Justice John Roberts led the court in siding with the sect, arguing in part that the government’s acceptance of peyote use by hundreds of thousands of Native Americans makes their attempt to outlaw Christian tea mute.

Given that the Justice Department knows the peyote rule, why would they go after hoasca? I suggest that this is yet another example of the Administration’s war on Christianity. What’s next? A new temperance movement that will outlaw sacramental wine use by Catholics?

America is a Christian nation. We were founded by Christians, led by Christians, and most tax payers are Christians. And if they want to get high on Amazon tea, the government cannot and should not stop them.

Yet I can see the government’s concern. Peyote use among Native Americans is not a Christian practice. Christians cannot suddenly claim that peyote is central to anything having to do with their faith. So there is no way peyote will become normative. But O Centro Espirita Beneficente Uniao do Vegetal is Christian. What is to stop one Christian denomination from borrowing ideas from another? Nothing. What is to stop, say, Episcopalians from deciding that they have much to learn from their Brazilian brothers and sisters, and begin to use hoasca in their churches? Soon the entire Christian nation may be getting high on Sundays.

This is, I suspect, what the government is worried about. It is fine to be a Christian nation as long as we are not a O Centro Espirita Beneficente Uniao do Vegetal influenced Christian nation. But this is just plan anti-Christian bias. The government cannot dictate which brand of Christianity it will sanction.

So I applaud Chief Justice Roberts and his court. If I could, I would invite them all to Santa Fe for a cup of tea.

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