Church Fights for Right to Drink Tea

Salem, USA - It's a tempest in a teapot.

Followers of a Brazilian-based Christian church group in the United States want to be able to drink hoasca, a hallucinogenic type of tea, during their religious services. But the Justice Department says the tea is illegal and falls under the classification of a banned substance.

A federal judge will soon decide whether Oregon's Church of the Holy Light of the Queen will be allowed to consume the tea under the religious freedom restoration act.

Hoasca (pronounced wa-SA-ca) is made in the Brazilian rain forest by scraping the bark off tropical vines. Believers say the tea allows them to have visions and enables talks with God and communications with spirits.

Believers, young and old, make the sign of the cross before taking a sip.

The Oregon group is fighting to be allowed to consume the tea under the religious freedom restoration act.

"If people have a substance that they need to use as part of their religion, that they should be allowed to do that, that is what the Supreme Court has held," said Allison RenteIn, a professor of political science and anthropology at the University of Southern California.

The controversial tea has been used for centuries during religious services in South America, but most specialty stores, sometimes called "head shops," say it is not available in most of the United States.

The church wants the same consideration as some American Indian tribes that are allowed to use peyote during their traditional religious ceremonies.

Peyote contains mescaline and is sometimes called the "divine cactus." Some American Indians say its intense psychological effects last up to 12 hours.

Hoasca in Legal Limbo

The battle over hoasca has been in legal limbo for years. Though the highest courts have upheld the right for the church to use the tea, it is still considered an illegal drug.

"It is hallucinogenic and they drink it only in the context of these religious ceremonies," said RenteIn. "We don't want people drinking and driving."