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Ayahuasca Church Settles Religious Freedom Suit With Feds

A Phoenix-based church that uses the psychedelic ayahuasca as a sacrament announced Monday that it had reached a legal settlement in Arizona federal court with a slew of federal agencies to ensure its religious right to access the federally controlled substance.




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According to the April 12 settlement, the Church of the Eagle and the Condor, or CEC, will be allowed to import and prepare ayahuasca, a psychoactive tea that contains the psychedelic DMT, a Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act.



CEC said in a statement that its settlement with the government marked the first time a non-Christian church had received a CSA exemption under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, or RFRA, to use ayahuasca.



"This has positive implications and paves the way for other Indigenous-based and syncretic religions," the church said in a statement Monday. "This settlement affirms legitimacy of Indigenous spiritual traditions within the U.S. legal system by recognizing the CEC as a bona fide religious organization."



The government entities named in the lawsuit are the U.S. Department of Justice and its constituent agency the Drug Enforcement Administration, as well as the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and its U.S. Customs and Border Protection division.



Under the terms of the settlement, CEC will be allowed to "import, receive, manufacture, distribute, transport, securely store, and dispose of ayahuasca solely for CEC's religious purposes." The settlement bars the church from conducting any of these activities for "nonreligious purposes, including but not limited to recreational purposes."



The settlement requires the church to maintain records of the amount of ayahuasca shipped, disbursed and destroyed, to only allow ayahuasca to be handled by an "authorized person" in the church and to maintain communication with the DEA regarding any changes to its importing and manufacturing processes.



The settlement grants the DEA the "authority to enter registered premises and conduct administrative inspections and audits thereof at reasonable times and in a reasonable manner."



CEC is also required to have emergency protocols in place during the ceremony and to screen participants for potential health issues that could be aggravated by ayahuasca use.



"CEC's beliefs, shaped by their vision of a universal spirituality and rooted in Indigenous ways, are entitled to respect by the government. The resolution of this case represents the government's recognition of this community's right to exercise their religious beliefs without interference," said Martha Hartney, general counsel for the church, in a statement.



Hartney described the case's resolution as "a watershed moment in the United States" and said it marked an example of how "Indigenous ways are returning to a place of honor, respect, and care in American culture."

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