Gonzales v. O Centro Espirita Beneficente Uniao Do Vegetal (2006)

In Gonzales, a religious group sued to enjoin enforcement of the Controlled Substance Act insofar as it interfered with the group’s religious use of hoasca, a tea with hallucinogenic properties used in the group’s religious ceremonies. It was the Supreme Court’s first case decided under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and the result was precisely the opposite of Smith, which raised similar issues (with respect to peyote) under the Free Exercise Clause.

The Court easily disposed of the government’s argument under RFRA, finding that because there were other religious exceptions under the Controlled Substance Act, the government could assert no substantial government interest in enforcing it in these religious circumstances. “It is established in our strict scrutiny jurisprudence that a law cannot be regarded as protecting an interest of the ‘highest order’ … when it leaves appreciable damage to that supposedly vital interest unprohibited.”