Gonzales v. O Centro Espirita Beneficente Uniao do Vegetal Essay

Gonzales v. O Centro Espirita Beneficente Uniao do Vegetal            This case is important because it upholds the long-standing principle that First Amendment rights cannot be substantially burdened unless certain indispensable requirements are to be proven by the Government. Respondents are members of O Centro Espírita Beneficente Uniao do Vegetal (UDV), a Christian sect whose members receive communion through hoasca, a sacramental tea made from two plants.

One of these two is psychotria viridis, which contains dimethyltryptamine (DMT), a hallucinogen. Under Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, DMT is a regulated substance. In 1999, customs officials seized UDV’s hoasca shipment and threatened them with prosecution. UDV then filed for declaratory and injunctive relief against the law enforcement officials, alleging a violation of their rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993. The district court and the panel of the Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit upheld the validity of the injunction.On certiorari, the Government conceded that the application of the Controlled Substances Act would result in a substantial burden on UDV’s exercise of their religion. It, however, posited that the challenged application is the least restrictive means of furthering governmental interests. The governmental interests enumerated were: protecting UDV members’ health and safety, preventing the diversion of hoasca from the church to recreational users, and complying with the 1971 United Nations Convention on Psychotropic Substances.

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UDV, on other hand, alleged that the application is violative of their RFRA rights and that such legislation prohibits the Federal Government from applying laws which would substantially burden a person’s free exercise of his religion, “even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability.”The Court affirmed the injunction issued. It ruled that the Government was not able to meet the test of compelling interest and that the rule was not the least restrictive means of furthering any governmental interest.            The Respondents’ arguments are more persuasive because curtailment of First Amendment Rights are presumed unconstitutional. These rights are fundamental and they cannot be treated lightly and be substantially burdened unless the Court is persuaded that the restricting authority has complied with all tests of constitutionality. And, in this case, the Government failed to meet such burden.

REFERENCE:Gonzales, Attorney General, Et Al. v. O Centro Espirita Beneficente Uniao Do Vegetal Et Al.,546 U. S.



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