Phoenix Church sues DEA over ayahuasca religious confiscation

The Church of the Eagle and Condor, a non secular group in Phoenix, received its identify from a prophecy originating within the Peruvian Andes, which foretold the cultural unification of North and South America.

Fulfilling this prophecy, they are saying, church members drink ayahuasca, a South American hallucinogen. The drug, which has a protracted historical past of spiritual use, causes intense visions and hallucinations when ingested.

Nonetheless, over the previous two years, the US Division of Homeland Safety has seized shipments from Eagle Church and Ayahuasca Condor – which says the medicine are smuggled. The small group was threatened with federal prosecution.

This month, the church started a authorized battle over this expropriation, with the purpose of turning into one of many comparatively few ayahuasca church buildings throughout the nation to have gained authorized recognition by the US authorities.

On June 9, attorneys for the Church of the Eagle and Condor filed a lawsuit in federal court docket in opposition to the US Drug Enforcement Administration, Customs and Border Safety, and father or mother company DHS over forfeitures and warnings by federal brokers a few potential escalation. These actions constituted a “nice burden on [the church’s] follow their spiritual beliefs,” church legal professionals argued. The federal government has but to reply to these allegations in authorized arguments.

The Phoenix place of worship is now the newest of quite a lot of Ayahuasca church buildings in Arizona that previously two years have launched battles for authorized standing. One church in Phoenix filed an identical lawsuit simply over a 12 months in the past. It claims that the US authorities, in its efforts to crack down on narcotics getting into the nation, is bypassing historical spiritual freedoms.

One, Gentle Vine Church, additionally primarily based in Phoenix, was the topic of Phoenix New Instances The story final fall, which delved right into a drug raid on that church by a federal job pressure, and the church’s lawsuit in opposition to the DEA that adopted. One other church in Tucson remains to be struggling to realize authorized recognition from the US authorities after taking its personal ayahuasca.

The Church of the Eagle and Condor was established partially to “assist shield our sacred proper to make use of ayahuasca,” as doctor and church founder Joe Tavor defined in Final 12 months’s podcast. Tavor, of Phoenix, is a Colombian-American and works in naturopathic drugs. He calls himself “Ayahuasero,” after finding out the standard makes use of of the drink within the jungles of Peru for seven years.

Tavor declined to remark for this story, saying he’s asking questions for his lawyer now that the lawsuit has been filed. However he has been an outspoken advocate of spiritual freedom for ayahuasca congregations, and plenty of movies and supplies on YouTube Church web site clear up.

The authorized standing of ayahuasca in the USA is advanced. It is because the drink is comprised of a number of vegetation indigenous to the Amazon basin, which when cooked collectively activate the hallucinogenic N, N-dimethyltryptamine, or DMT. Below the Managed Substances Act, DMT is prohibited. However different US-based church buildings—notably the União do Vegetal church buildings of New Mexico and the Santo Daime church buildings in Oregon—have received authorized battles arguing that their spiritual use of ayahuasca is protected by the Spiritual Freedom Restoration Act.

Nonetheless, these profitable court docket circumstances didn’t shield different ayahuasca church buildings from confiscation or prosecution. as such the brand new period Reportedly final 12 months, Clay Villanueva — the late chief of the Gentle Vine Church — was raided and jailed in 2021 for possession of ayahuasca (although he confronted different drug fees as nicely, for promoting pot and possession of psilocybin mushrooms).

The Church of the Eagle and Condor had its ayahuasca seized by CBP in September 2020. The church had ordered a cargo from Peru, which was confiscated in transit, in Los Angeles. By then, the church had been in operation for about two years, and held digital talks, ayahuasca ceremonies, and different gatherings at varied areas within the Phoenix space, together with a Mesa group heart that it is renting. Not a single brick-and-mortar web site.

Gilbert Carrasco, one of many attorneys working with the Church of the Eagle and Condor on his case, stated. He stated it quantities to violating the RFRA, which prohibits the federal government from burdening spiritual practices.

Carrasco, together with co-attorney Jack Silver, has labored on high-profile ayahuasca circumstances earlier than, together with the historic Santo Daime case in Oregon, which started in 2008. On this case, a small Oregon department of the Brazilian Santo Daimi Church, Which ritually makes use of ayahuasca, a cost has been seized. Its spiritual chief was arrested. The church sued the federal authorities and received its case, which was upheld by the Ninth Circuit of Appeals.

“Mr. Silver and I are serving to this church and these congregations in Arizona proper now,” Carrasco stated. the brand new period final week.

Because it seems, the seizure of Eagle Church and the Ayahuasca Condor in 2020 was a part of a sequence of ayahuasca cargo seizures that 12 months—which included the High quality of Gentle Church in Phoenix and the Arizona Yaghi Complicated, a Tucson-based church.

Tvor, in a video from Might 2021, described “many, many reviews” of seizures from that point interval. Each different church buildings in Arizona confirmed in court docket paperwork that they skilled a seizure. Charles Carrion, Villanueva and AYA’s lawyer, stated he believed the slight enhance in seizures was because of the implementation of a brand new methodology of drug testing by CBP that has occurred throughout the nation.

In accordance with the Church of the Eagle and Condor’s lawsuit, for 2 years the US authorities ignored most FOIA congregants’ requests for ayahuasca confiscation. calls from the brand new period To the Division of Homeland Safety’s media line, no response.

The church’s grievance alleges that CBP “has engaged in a sample and follow of seizing and destroying numerous different shipments of ayahuasca which have arrived in the USA since 2020.”

Carrasco stated that along with authorized recognition, the church needs to grasp extra in regards to the shift course of. When the Church took Ayahuasca, [CBP] He did not inform them they’d. They did not clarify why. They didn’t give them any alternative to problem the Nuba. Carrasco stated: They destroyed the Eucharist in a sacrilegious method.

The stakes for the church are excessive. Within the fall of 2021, Maricopa County prosecutors charged Villanueva, the chief of the Vine of Gentle Church, with possession and use of ayahuasca. This, even supposing he used it for spiritual ceremonies and was on the board of administrators of the North American Affiliation of Visionary Church buildings, which represents congregations utilizing ayahuasca in spiritual rituals.

Consequently, Villanueva was imprisoned for a number of weeks in August 2021. The interval of his imprisonment affected his well being. Months earlier, he was recognized with lymphoma, and was treating himself with holistic drugs. Jail time worsened his situation. As soon as Villanueva was launched, alongside together with his ankle monitor and parole officer, the festivities by no means resumed.

“The DEA destroyed that church,” stated Scott Stanley, founding father of the Tucson Ayahuasca Church, Arizona Yaghi Affiliation. “It affected his complete flock.” He stated some devotees of Vine of Gentle have flocked to Stanley Church or others in Arizona. The others vanished.

Villanueva died of most cancers on April 1, abandoning his spouse, son, and worshipers in mourning. Simply this Saturday, the Stanley Church held a memorial service for the pastor. An ayahuasca ceremony was held in his honor.

The county has since dropped all fees in opposition to Villanueva’s spouse Cecilia, who was named as a defendant within the case. However each Villanueva and his church are actually gone.

Nonetheless, if the Church of the Eagle and Condor is proof of this, the spiritual use of ayahuasca didn’t subside in Phoenix.

“Regardless of the threats…the Church and its members proceed to import, possess, and use their sacrament, they usually don’t have any intention of stopping,” the church’s legal professionals wrote within the lawsuit.

A key factor within the Church’s battle for consent will likely be to ascertain that they’re, in reality, utilizing ayahuasca as a part of a non secular follow in court docket. In Villanueva’s case, this was extra of a grey space. Whereas Villanueva was holding spiritual ceremonies – and was seen as a religious chief – there have been indications, primarily based on textual content messages obtained by Maricopa County Representatives, that he was promoting ayahuasca to different practitioners.

Legal professionals for the Eagle and Condor Church argue that it’s keen to make use of the property, which is a non secular group. “They maintain a really strict stock of ayahuasca,” Carrasco stated. “Solely board members can entry it. It is not accessible to members outdoors the church in any respect.” The legal professionals wrote within the lawsuit that the church had a “perception integrating perception system,” by which ayahuasca was “the deep and basic voice of Mom Nature and divinity.”

“They’re very loyal and dependable,” stated Carrasco.

For the church, the authorized highway will possible be a protracted one. AYA in Tucson, which filed a lawsuit collectively with Villanueva and his church in 2021, has been ready for a decision within the case for greater than a 12 months. Though Villanueva and Vine of Gentle are now not a part of the case, it appears that evidently AYA could also be getting nearer and nearer to a profitable conclusion. Simply final week, the DEA agreed to start out talks a few settlement.

“We’re on this for the lengthy haul,” Stanley stated this week. We hope that inside the subsequent three to 6 months, we could have an settlement.

For now—regardless of their authorized woes—the Ayahuasca church buildings in Arizona do not look like a deterrent.