WASHINGTON – A small branch of a South American religious sect may use hallucinogenic tea as part of a ritual intended to connect with God, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously Tuesday. In its first religious-freedom decision under Chief Justice John Roberts, the court said the government cannot hinder religious practices without proof of a compelling need to do so. “This is a very important decision for minority religious freedom in this country,” said lawyer John Boyd, representing about 130 U.S. members of O Centro Espirita Beneficiente Uniao do Vegetal who live in New Mexico, California and Colorado. The tea, which contains an illegal drug known as dimethyltryptamine or DMT, is considered sacred to members of the sect, which has a blend of Christian beliefs and South American traditions. Members believe they can understand God only by drinking the tea, which is consumed twice a month at four-hour ceremonies. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORECasino Insider: Here’s a look at San Manuel’s new high limit rooms, Asian restaurant A trial judge found the government’s evidence that the drug is harmful equal in weight to information provided by the sect that its method of using the tea is not. Roberts, in writing the opinion for the court, said the government had failed to prove that federal drug laws should outweigh the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which Congress passed in 1993 to prohibit burdening a person’s exercise of religion. The Bush administration had argued that using the drug in the tea not only violates a federal narcotics law but also a treaty in which the United States promised to block the importation of drugs including DMT. Religious groups of various faiths, along with civil-liberties organizations, filed friend-of-the-court briefs supporting the sect. 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!