Some legal groups see Tuesday's Supreme Court "tea" decision as an important precedent in religious freedom jurisprudence. Others see it as a harbinger of church-state relations under the Roberts court. But religious freedom advocates agree that the case means it will likely be harder for the government to limit expression after the ruling.
The Court ruled unanimously in favor of a New Mexico sect's bid to use hallucinogenic tea in religious rituals. Seen as a major religious liberty test case, several Christian legal groups, including the National Association of Evangelicals, had filed friend-of-the-court briefs on behalf of the sect.
In his first religious freedom case, Chief Justice John Roberts said the sect's right to religious expression and practice superseded federal drug control laws that were used to confiscate the tea, known as hoasca.
Tuesday's ruling served as a strong endorsement of the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which requires the government to show a "compelling interest" before it can limit religious freedom.
Roberts said the law gives courts the authority to "strike sensible balances" in weighing government regulation and religious expression.
Jared Leland, legal counsel for The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty in Washington, said the case is evidence that under Roberts, the Court will advocate religious liberty.
"With a smile on my face, I can say that there is certainly a bright future for religious liberty cases," Leland said. "The case is greatly significant because of the fact that the teeth of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act were sharpened. It increased the level of protection for all faith, especially less conventional faiths in the United States."
Religious groups had watched the case ...