Over the past few years, Soul Quest has been in the process of working towards becoming the 3rd Legal Ayahuasca Church in the US. Despite the First Amendment and RFRA stating “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” there is a long legal process that has to be overcome. This process includes obtaining an exemption from the DEA since ayahuasca is deemed a Schedule 1 drug by the government, thus making it illegal. This is no small task and the DEA does it’s research on any entity that applies for this exemption.
The process includes proving your ‘religious’ practices are truly for religious purposes, which can be tough since there is no exact written rule defining what constitutes a ‘religion’ The sincerity of your establishment is also reviewed to make sure that your claimed religion is not made up just to get around the law. We also have to prove that the law is preventing or burdening the practice of religion. Once the government reviews these items and determines there is no compelling interest to disallow our exemption, the DEA exemption may be granted and our practices will be overseen by the government as if we were a pharmaceutical company.
For a more lengthy article on the process and an example of an ayahuasca case in the us, click here. We’ve also shared part of our DEA exemption paperwork with you below and are happy to answer any questions you may have on the legalities of our practice.
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February 27, 2017
Drug Enforcement Administration
____________, Virginia ______
RE: Request for Religious-Based Exemption to Controlled Substances Act
To Whom It May Concern:
The following constitutes the request for a religious-based exemption by Soul Quest Church of Mother Earth, Inc., d/b/a, Soul Quest Ayahuasca Church of Mother Earth Retreat & Wellness Center (“Soul Quest”) to the provisions of the Controlled Substances Act, 21 U.S.C. §§ 801, et seq., specifically as it pertains to the ritual use by Soul Quest of ayahuasca for its sacramental activities. Soul Quest asserts its eligibility for such an exemption, pursuant to the United States Supreme Court’s decision in O Centro Espirita Beneficente Uniao Do Vegetal v. Gonzalez, 546 U.S. 418 (2006) (“Gonzalez”), and the provisions of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000bb, et seq., (“RFRA”).
Soul Quest and its adherents hold a common set of beliefs regarding the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, asserting that the creation of all things is the result of the divine of the Great Spirit. The Great Spirit has provided to all being an eternal force, one that permeates all beings.
As will be discussed throughout this exemption request, Soul Quest and its adherents sanctify and uphold this core religious belief through its devotional and ritual observances. The foundation for all religious beliefs and practices within Soul Quest are premised upon its belief in a specific moral code binding the conduct of human affairs.
As the federal courts have continuously recognized, the Government cannot impose a religious litmus test, designed to favor certain types of religions or religious practices over others. The primary effect of a government policy or practice cannot be designed to inhibit religion. Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602, 612-13 (1971). In other words, any consideration of an exemption application cannot have the effect of “officially prefer[ring] [one religious denomination] over another.” Larson v. Valente, 456 U.S. 228, 244 (1982).
The United States Supreme Court has explained that any endorsement of a majority religion “sends the ancillary message to . . . nonadherents ‘that they are outsiders, not full members of the political community.’” Santa Fe Indep. Sch. Dist. v. Doe, 530 U.S. 290, 310 (2000) (quoting Lynch v. Donnelly, 465 U.S. 668, 688 (1984) (O’Connor, J., concurring)). The Equal Protection Clause likewise prohibits the Government from impermissibly discriminating among persons based on religion. De La Cruz v. Tormey, 582 F.2d 45, 50 (9th Cir. 1978).
Accordingly, any consideration by the Executive Branch of a religious exemption to the provisions of the Controlled Substances Act must be made so as not to disfavor minority religious groups. The refusal or inability of the Government to attend to this, would constitute violations of the First Amendment’s Free Exercise and Establishment Clauses, as well as the Fourteenth Amendment’s (implicit within the Fifth Amendment) Equal Protection Clause. Effectively, the Drug Enforcement Administration must consider the exemption application so as to vindicate a standard that would maximize any collision with religious freedoms. This is consistent with both the effect of the Supreme Court’s decision in the Gonzalez case, above, and with the tenets of the RFRA. Official action that targets religious conduct for distinctive treatment cannot be shielded by mere compliance with the requirement of facial neutrality.” Larson, 456 U.S. at 254-55 (holding that a facially neutral law or regulation violated the Establishment Clause in light of legislative history demonstrating an intent to apply regulations only to minority religions); Village of Arlington Heights v. Metro. Housing Dev. Corp., 429 U.S. 252, 266-67 (1977).
In order to facilitate the DEA’s examination and its granting of a religious exemption, this application for exemption will provide a full background on Soul Quest, inclusive of a description of its activities, its sincerely-held beliefs, and its other recognition as being a recognized religious institution under state and federal laws. It is Soul Quest’s reasonable expectation that, upon serious consideration by the Drug Enforcement Administration and any cooperating agencies, that Soul Quest will be deemed eligible for its religious-based exemption.
Soul Quest has taken the liberty of breaking down the issues within the following narrative, designed to fully apprise DEA on its qualifications for the requested exemption. The individuals assessing this material will note that Soul Quest embodies many of the same religious and moral principles of other religious faiths, inclusive of core Judeo-Christian values. These values are joined with the embracing of the belief systems of traditional indigenous civilizations including, but certainly not limited to, those of Native American tribal beliefs and practices. Indeed, one might analogize Soul Quest with the belief system and canon of the Unitarian Universalist Church, which embraces and weaves the religious beliefs, principles practices and morays of a multitude of religious and even non-religious faiths into its own faith. See http://www.uua.org/
Supportive materials relating to this breakdown of the nature of the Soul Quest faith and its liturgy are attached to this document. Ultimately, it is reasonably anticipated that DEA will grant Soul Quest’s application for exemption, determining that Soul Quest meets the necessary criteria including, as established by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit in U.S. v. Meyers, 95 F.3d 1475 (1996) (acknowledging that the threshold for determining sincerity of religious beliefs is low); U.S. v. Meyers, 906 F. Supp. 1494, 1501 (D. Wyo. 1995) (so long as the stated factors are “minimally satisfied, the practice should be considered religious”).
Conclusion & Request for Granting of Religious-Based Exemption
In conclusion, Soul Quest reiterates its request for a religious-based exemption from the provisions of the Controlled Substances Act, as pertaining to its ritual use of ayahuasca in its conducting holy sacraments. Soul Quest remains confident that a review of this application, inclusive of all supplemental materials, will result in the granting of the requested exemption. Of course, Soul Quest welcomes the opportunity to address any questions or issues raised by the Drug Enforcement Administration or its cooperating agents in its consideration of this exemption application.