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10th Circuit: Church likely to prevail in dispute over hallucinogenic tea (c) Associated Press 09.05.03
DENVER ? A New Mexico church was handed a small victory yesterday when a federal appeals court ruled its use of hallucinogenic tea was likely to be protected under religious-freedom laws.
The 2-1 ruling by a three-judge panel of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, upheld a preliminary injunction against the U.S. attorney general, the Drug Enforcement Administration and other government agencies that sought to prohibit the tea's use.
The panel majority agreed with the U.S. District Court in New Mexico that the Brazil-based O Centro Espirita Beneficiente Uniao do Vegetal church had "demonstrated a substantial likelihood of success" of winning an exemption for sacramental use of the tea, which contains a drug barred by the Controlled Substances Act.
Jeffrey Bronfman, president of the church, sued the Justice Department alleging, among other claims, violations of the First Amendment and the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Bronfman sued after 30 gallons of hoasca tea were seized by U.S. Customs agents from his office in Santa Fe, N.M. No one was arrested in the 1999 raid.
Hoasca tea, used in some religious ceremonies, is brewed from plants found only in the Amazon River Basin.
The church originated in Brazil and its U.S. operations are based in Santa Fe. About 130 people, many of them Brazilian citizens, are members of the U.S. branch, according to court documents.