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The Government Decides Whether You Can Drink Your Tea
Okay, it's hallucenogenic tea, but why should that be any of their business? Here's the story:

An obscure religious sect today pleaded with the US Supreme Court not to ban the import of hoasca, a hallucinogenic tea, from Brazil for sacred use in its rituals.

The nine Supreme Court justices must decide whether to side with the US Government, which argues the tea is harmful, could be diverted to recreational drug users and is barred by an international treaty.

Or they may hold that a 1993 US law on religious freedom means that the church, O Centro Espirita Beneficiente Uniao do Vegetal, (UDV) deserve an exception for the tea which believers feel brings them closer to God.

The church is an unusual mix of Christian and indigenous South American spiritual beliefs, and has around 130 members in the United States.

UDV rituals involve sipping hoasca tea, made from the roots of two indigenous Amazonian plants, in communion.

The case arose in 1999 when US customs officers intercepted a shipment of brewed hoasca liquid from Brazil.

136 liters was seized from the home of Jeffrey Bronfman, the head of the church's American chapter and a member of the famed Canadian whisky making business family.

The US Government argues that the tea should not be allowed into the United States because it is a health risk, it could be diverted to non religious users and it is barred by the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances, designed to stem drug trafficking.

But lawyers for the UDV disputed that the treaty covers hoasca, argued the substance had never been passed to outsiders and said US religious laws meant the church should be allowed to use the tea.

Justice Antonin Scalia pointed out that Congress has the right to override a treaty through domestic law -- in this case, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, enacted in 1999.

"Isn't it well established that statutes trump treaties?" he asked.

Here's a bit of commentary next to the story, which makes the point I would:

There’s a wonderful concept called freedom, but in America, it’s pretty much irrelevant.

This entire court case would be absurd, in a society that gave a dang about freedom. What could be more ludicrous, than to have attorneys argue and judges decide whether people may drink the tea they choose or worship the way they wish?

Why should you or your government give a damn what tea someone drinks? Or whether or not it brings hallucinations or hiccups? Or whether it might be sipped during or outside of some church’s services? Or whether complete strangers are allowed cream or honey with their tea? Why is any of this any of your business, or your government's?

I’m sorry -- I was born and raised in America, so I should understand American insanity by now ... but I still haven’t a clue. Help me understand:

What kind of Taliban jackass worries about what tea his neighbors might drink, and calls in lawyers to make sure it’s an appropriate tea? Why is the federal government wasting time and money preventing freedom? Why is it up to Antonin Scalia to decide what tea Americans can drink, and what tea will land Americans in prison?

Insanity …

-Helen & Harry Highwater

via Sploid

Posted by aalkon at November 4, 2005 6:07 AM

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Amy, there's a problem with this. The 1993 law was struck down; 1999 law, as reported at the definitive site , has a number of similar but non-identical names. So, your reference is an interesting citation for a couple of reasons that should offend people beyond the usual irritation of imprecise content.

First, such people as protest Federal regulation of "tea" as an encroachment on their freedom are two-faced: they demand protection against food impurities by the Federal government at the same time. This hypocrisy is simply quelled at the individual level by personal outrage at being told that you can't drug yourself willy-nilly, like you desperately want, because you'll hurt yourself and others. This is the price of living in a society, rather than by yourself, because the society will determine what it will tolerate from you and set laws to limit you. As a member of that society, it is incumbent upon you to realize that laws are not for other people: they are for you.

Second: "The Religious Freedom Restoration Act" also known as Public Law 103-141, has two nasty things wrong with it. One has a direct bearing on this case and it's pretty cut/dry; it was struck down as un-Constitutional due to being an unfunded mandate. The other should give you real pause...

Public Law 103-141 was, as you might guess, in direct violation of the 1st Amendment of the Constitution except as Congress chose to define "establishment". Though no one has any difficulty pointing out the "establishment" owned by a proprietor - or operated by a political-industrial-military complex - this noun was ignored; Congress passed the Act by using the term as a verb, and by diffusing action called for in the Act by making it secular. How? By applying it to everyone, regardless of faith (in theory).

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act was passed in response to activities surrounding the Branch Davidian disaster at Waco, Texas. The alert might be suspicious of any professed legal need to ensure something spelled out in the Bill of Rights. While you might assume that the Act addressed the rights of Americans to worship as they please by affirming that right, it actually granted the Attorney General of the US the sole discretion to determine if a "religion" is a "cult", to determine if said "cult" constituted an undue burden on Federal authorities, and if so, to disband it by force. This last brought out a new line of anti-BATF bumper stickers, saying "Is your church BATF-approved?"

Posted by: Radwaste at November 4, 2005 8:14 AM

You can blame the liberals on the Supreme Court for this one.

Posted by: nash at November 4, 2005 11:02 AM

Nope. Nobody with standing before the Court has shown that they are injured. Religion is a personal preference; Santerians can't commit animal cruelty in the name of theirs, since there are alternatives. You'll note that no one advances those faiths requiring human sacrifices... there's a reason for that, and it's not the SC.

Posted by: Radwaste at November 4, 2005 1:52 PM

Raddy, what do you do for a living? Just curious.

Posted by: Crid at November 4, 2005 3:43 PM

I've drugged myself in the past, and do so in the present -- with legally prescribed Ritalin -- and I have yet to hurt anyone ever. Firearms also hurt people, but do you want to ban them as well? Gun don't kill people, people kill people, so if you want to prevent gun violence, ban people. Kind of the same logic as above. I didn't post this because I feel sorry for a bunch of religious nuts. I'm no fan of religion. Nor am I a fan of the government telling me what I can and can't injest. If my "pursuit of happiness" would be improved by injesting some happy tea, and I'm not getting behind anything more than a couch cushion (as opposed to behind a wheel), and I'm not on welfare because of it (any more than I would be for drinking martinis)...well, what of it?

Posted by: Amy Alkon at November 4, 2005 10:57 PM

Crid, I write and review procedures for the handling of radioactive waste. I have a lot of other interests, though - this is not everything I have done. Public Law 103-141 came up during a discussion on the now-defunct CNN Forums about the Waco disaster. That and other discussions on fora everywhere pointed me to the Library of Congress site, as I searched for a source of information about legislation other than hearsay.

Amy, my point, again, is that the price of being part of a society is abiding by its laws; you know that. If Ritalin was illegal, then you simply wouldn't have it other than illegally. Society has told you it is OK for you to get Ritalin the way you do.

Society has also decided that thousands of gun laws are needed, largely due to myths about the propulsion of bits of metal by burning tree bark. I agitate for education in both cases. By the way - when you can show me a benefit in the the use of uncontrolled drugs by uneducated and unsupervised people, let me know. There are drugs which produce lasting acute and heritable damage to the user. That's right there with allowing the unsupervised use of uncontrolled weapons by uneducated people. Good idea? No.

All will please note that it is proper to control drugs by class, as opposed to individually, due to the difficulty of specifying chemicals by law. You can see this in the administration of anti-steroid rules in professional and amateur athletics.

Posted by: Radwaste at November 6, 2005 7:36 PM

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