Arizona churches call for religious freedom as they fight for their right to use a sacramental tea brewed from plants as an "essential mode of worship." However, the federal court refuses to conform to their suit since the plant contains a hallucinogenic compound.

The Arizona Yagé Assembly, the Church of the Eagle, and the Condor filed separate lawsuits claiming they were deprived of their constitutional religious rights to use ayahuasca.

What is this sacramental tea?

Drinking ayahuasca started in the spirituality of indigenous people in South America. According to the federal Controlled Substances Act, ayahuasca is a Schedule I controlled substance, which means this is a drug with a high potential for abuse. It may also result in severe psychological or physical dependence.

Despite that, the churches claim that ayahuasca, also known as yagé, huasca and daime, is not addictive. The tea, used for religious purposes, is made by boiling the stalks of the banisteriopsis caapi vine and adding psychotria viridis leaves. However, it has an unpleasant taste, and some people who ingest it experience nausea and vomiting.

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Churches claim how the absence of ayahuasca affects worship

In a lawsuit, the Church of the Eagle and the Condor, which has 40 active members, said that the U.S. Customs and Border Protection seized and destroyed their ayahuasca in 2020.

Physician and spiritual leader Joseph Tafur and four other church members claim that they did not get due process before the confiscation. They added that the Drug Enforcement Agency refused to respond to their Freedom of Information Act filings when they sought more specific information about depriving their rights to import, distribute and possess ayahuasca.

The Arizona Yagé Assembly in Tucson and the San Francisco-based North American Association of Visionary Churches filed suit in 2020, saying how the absences ayahuasca "substantially burdened" their worship. They added that what happened "forced them to choose between obedience to their religion and criminal sanction," UPI reported.

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