Oregon — An Ashland church can import and brew a hallucinogenic tea for its religious services, according to a U.S. District Court ruling.
Judge Owen M. Panner issued a permanent injunction Thursday barring the federal government from penalizing or prohibiting the Church of the Holy Light of the Queen from sacramental use of “Daime” tea.
The church, which blends Christian and indigenous religious beliefs in Brazil, uses tea brewed from the ayahuasca plant in their services. The tea contains trace amounts of the chemical dimethyltryptamine or DMT.
According to the church’s lawsuit, the tea is the central ritual and sacrament of the religion where members believe “only by taking the tea can a church member have direct experience with Jesus Christ.”
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In February 2006, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously Tuesday that a small congregation in New Mexico may use hallucinogenic tea as part of a four-hour ritual intended to connect with God.
In some news reports regarding that decision, that group, O Centro Espirita Beneficiente Uniao do Vegetal (Portuguese for the United Beneficent Spiritual Central of the Vegetable), is described as an offshoot of Santo Daime.
However, that appears to be incorrect. The Supreme Court decision in the current case threats the two groups as distinct:
The Brazilian government, after studying the Santo Daime religion and the effects of Daime tea on church members, has recognized the Santo Dairne church as a legitimate religion and permits sacramental use of Daime tea.
The Catholic Church in Brazil considers Santo Daime to be a valid religion and treats the Santo Daime church as a full partner on humanitarian and environmental issues.
Santo Daime is also recognized as a legitimate religion in Spain and the Netherlands.
The Brazilian government has recognized another syncretic ayahuasca-based religion, the UniZo do Vegetal (UDV) church.
The UDV church, which was founded in 1961, differs somewhat from Santo Daime in doctrines and practices, but the UDVgs sacrament, called “hoascan (the Portuguese transliteration of ayahuasca), is identical to Daime tea, and hoasca is consumed only during church ceremonies.
Psychedelic tea-sipping Oregon sect sues Uncle Sam
In 1999, federal agents searched the home of Jonathan Goldman, the head of the Ashland-based Oregon branch of Santo Daime, called the Church of the Holy Light of the Queen, where they intercepted a shipment of these leaves. And now it appears that Oregon church members are worried that another crackdown could be, well, brewing.
Members of the Oregon branch of the Santo Daime sect — including Alexandra Bliss Yeager, the head of its Portland branch, Church of the Divine Rose — filed suit in federal court in Medford last month asking for a temporary restraining order against U.S. Attorney General Robert Mukasey, U.S. Attorney for Oregon Immergut, and the federal Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, who oversees enforcement of federal drug law.
According to the lawsuit, the federal government in 2001 reserved the right to take action against the church; but the suit does not allege any active investigation.
Noting that the Oregon Board of Pharmacy has approved the use of ayahuasca tea for religious purposes, the suit cites “the continuing threat of arrest and prosecution of members of the Church who attempt to bring the tea in from Brazil or hold services,” adding that “Plaintiffs are still in great fear that defendants’ agents and employees will arrest them and throw them in jail for practicing their religion, even in Oregon.”
How active the Church of the Divine Rose is in Portland is unclear. A Web page for the Village Ballroom in Northeast Portland suggested that church members met there once last year. Another Web page stated that 20 female members of the Oregon church met in Portland twice to discuss, among other things, ways to strengthen their charitable activities on behalf of women in Brazil. However, the Multnomah County Assessor’s Office has no record of Yeager’s church applying for any sort of religious tax exemption.
Yeager did not respond to an e-mail from the Portland Tribune, and other church members either declined to comment or did not respond to voicemails and e-mails.
The church’s lawsuit described its religious beliefs as follows: “It is believed that only by taking the tea can a Church member have a direct experience with Jesus Christ, believed by members of the Church to be a savior.”