WASHINGTON – The Bush administration asked the Supreme Court on Thursday to block a New Mexico church from using hallucinogenic tea that the government contends is illegal and potentially dangerous.
The appeal from Attorney General Alberto Gonzales (search) argues that a lower court was wrong to allow the Brazil-based O Centro Espirita Beneficiente Uniao do Vegetal to import and use the hoasca tea (search) as part of its religious services.
"The court's decision has mandated that the federal government open the nation's borders to the importation, circulation and usage of a mind-altering hallucinogen and threatens to inflict irreparable harm on international cooperation in combating transnational narcotics trafficking," the filing states.
The church, which has about 140 members in the United States and 8,000 worldwide, said the herbal brew is a central sacrament in its religious practice, which is a blend of Christian beliefs and traditions rooted in the Amazon basin.
The group has won several rounds at the lower courts, most recently at the Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in November.
In December, the Supreme Court (search) lifted a temporary stay that allowed the church to immediately use the tea after its court victories. The Justice Department had argued they should be blocked from doing so until it filed a formal appeal, which it did Thursday.
If the high court agrees to hear the case, it won't be heard until next term.
The church's U.S. operations are based in Santa Fe, N.M.