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Supreme Court rules in religious freedom, arbitration cases

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] issued two decisions Tuesday, including a ruling in Gonzales v. O Centro Espirita Beneficiente Uniao do Vegetal [Duke Law backgrounder], 04-1084, in which the Court held that a church congregation could use hallucinogenic tea as part of a religious ceremony to connect with God. In a unanimous opinion authored by Chief Justice John Roberts [JURIST news archive], the Court held that the federal government improperly seized the church's hoasca tea, which contains the illegal drug DMT. Roberts held that the government failed to show a compelling enough interest to allow the seizure under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act [text] or that an exemption for the church would result in harm. The church, which blends Brazilian and Christian beliefs, sought a preliminary injunction [JURIST report] against the seizure, which was granted and upheld [opinion text] by the US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit. Read the Court's opinion [PDF text]. AP has more.

The Court also ruled in Buckeye Check Cashing Inc. v. Cardegna [Duke Law backgrounder], 04-1264, in which it held that a contract with an arbitration clause must go to arbitration even if the entire contract is disputed. The Court by a 7-1 margin ruled that the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) [text] and federal law should govern the issue rather than state law, as the Florida Supreme Court ruled [opinion text, PDF] in the case. Under the FAA, an arbitration clause may be severable from the rest of the contract, and a general challenge to the contract may be decided by an arbitrator. Read the Court's opinion [PDF text], per Justice Scalia, and Justice Thomas' dissent [PDF text].

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