Legality of our Spiritual and Religious Practices
Because of governmental restrictions placed on many of these sacred sacraments and ceremonies (usually in violation of our civil rights), we as an authentic Church feel the need to protect people and their rights to benefit from them. We established our Code of Ethics and Code of Conduct to help our COSS members understand the positive uses of these medicines and to protect against the disrespectful or damaging uses that some choose. COSS teaches both our members and our medicine people the spiritual basis and intentions that are necessary to understand and participate in this important movement in a good way.
In all of this, we (COSS) constantly seek the guidance of the Great Spirit. We see ourselves as the caretakers and defenders of the indigenous ways and the people who choose to walk with us.
We feel we have a responsibility to Mother Earth and Father Sky to protect them to the best of our ability from those who would abuse, pollute and damage our temple and common home (Mother Earth). The well-being of our world has a direct effect on the well-being of the people who dwell here and of their descendants unto the seventh generation.
COSS hopes and prays for the day when these indigenous ceremonies and sacraments will be available to all who seek them without officially having to “join” any group for protection in doing so. When that day comes, our mission will continue to be important. We will still be here to promote and provide healing and empowerment to our world and her people, and safeguarding the way of peace and happiness. Until that day, we will stand for your Constitutional rights to follow your beliefs and spiritual practices and we will continue to offer a path of healing and peace to those who wish to walk and pray with us.
COSS and its members have legal and God-given rights to utilize Sacraments such as Psilocybe Fungi, Acacia, Amanita Muscaria, Syrian Rue, Peyote, San Pedro, Iboga, and natural plant-based extracts, such as Ayahuasca – or any other element or organism and any combination thereof – according to the laws of the land and the laws of nature. Addictive or harmful substances that are obviously not spiritual sacraments are not permitted as COSS Sacraments.
There are two bills that were passed by US Congress, to protect Religious Freedoms. They are:
The American Indian Religious Freedom Act (AIRFA)
This is a United States federal law, passed by the US Congress in 1978.
It was enacted to protect and preserve the traditional religious rights and cultural practices of American Indians, Eskimos, Aleuts, and Native Hawaiians. These rights include, but are not limited to, access to sacred sites, freedom to worship through ceremonial and traditional rights, and the use and possession of objects considered sacred.
The Act requires any governmental agencies to eliminate interference with the free exercise of Native American religion. That means, particularly pertaining to us, the government cannot interfere with our Native American Ceremonies with our sacraments & sacred plant teachers such as Ayahuasca, Peyote, San Pedro etc.
A primary reason that this Act was created is because the US Government continued to deny Native Americans their First Amendment right of “free exercise” of religion. So this Act was created to add further protection to Native Americans and the free exercise of their religion.
The 1993 United States federal law that “ensures that interests in religious freedom are protected.”
The First Amendment and RFRA
The First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States says: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
There are two clauses to this:
1) “no law respecting an establishment of religion”
2) “no law… prohibiting the free exercise thereof”
The first clause is known as the establishment clause, the second as the free exercise clause. The establishment clause is interpreted as meaning that the government cannot show favoritism to any religion or give special privileges to any religion. The free exercise clause is interpreted as meaning that the government cannot interfere with religious practice.
The establishment clause and the free exercise clause can come into conflict when a particular religion’s practices conflict with “generally applicable laws.” On the one hand, allowing a special exception could be interpreted as giving favoritism or special privileges to a particular religion, violating the establishment clause; on the other hand, not allowing the special exception could interfere with the free exercise of religion and violate the free exercise clause. Over the decades, the courts have seesawed between which of these clauses gets priority.
In Smith v State of Oregon in 1988, the Supreme Court gave priority to the establishment clause over the free exercise clause, ruling that allowing Klamath tribal member Al Smith the right to use peyote would be special privilege for his religion. But that ruling went so far in the direction of the establishment clause that it alarmed religious groups across the country. It potentially opened the door for the government to pass a “generally applicable law” that, for example, would prohibit the wearing of hijabs or skullcaps and refuse to allow religious exceptions, since such an exception would give special privileges to particular religions.
An unprecedented coalition of religious groups across the religious and political spectrums came together to push for the passage of RFRA. RFRA was overwhelmingly passed by Congress. It has been modified through subsequent case rulings. (It mandates only the federal government, not state governments, but some states have passed state RFRAs.)
RFRA basically mandates that courts give the free exercise clause priority over the establishment clause.
In other words, the principle of no interference with religious freedom gets priority over the principle of no special privileges for a particular religion, if certain guidelines are met. RFRA spells out those guidelines.
The question is, what is “religious freedom?” Most simply, it is the right of every American to practice their own religion, however that may be defined, as long as they are not infringing on another person’s rights or safety. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states that everyone in the United States has the right to practice his or her own religion, or no religion at all, without persecution or discrimination.
As quoted by the American Civil Liberties Union in their article “Your Right To Religious Freedom”:
The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution says that everyone in the United States has the right to practice his or her own religion, or no religion at all. Our country’s founders — who were of different religious backgrounds themselves — knew the best way to protect religious liberty was to keep the government out of religion. So they created the First Amendment — to guarantee the separation of church and state. This fundamental freedom is a major reason why the U.S. has managed to avoid a lot of the religious conflicts that have torn so many other nations apart.”
Sacraments, such as peyote, cannabis, san pedro, ayahuasca and many others, are able to be possessed and utilized by members in good standing of sincere religious organizations that meet the government defined requirements. These religious rights have been confirmed by a number of state, district, and federal court cases including those brought before the Utah Supreme Court, US 9th Circuit Court, US 10th Appeals Court and the US Supreme Court. In addition, interstate commerce and transportation of sacraments and spiritual symbols are protected under RLUIPA.
5-18-15: Attorney Charles W. Galbraith (of the prestigious Kilpatrick Townsend law firm) was the White House Associate Director of Inter-Governmental Affairs and Public Engagement. He was instrumental in drafting the policies that confirm that the Federal Government respects the sovereignty of Native American Tribes and their ability to choose if they want to grow and sell cannabis and other plants on the reservations. Galbraith emphatically declared that, by law, government agencies such as the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) the US Forestry Service and the Department of the Interior have no legal right or authority to mandate or restrict what is sacred land or what is or is not a sacrament (called medicine by many tribes).
The government is bound by a standard known as the governmental compelling interest standard to not interfere with the religious lands, ceremonies or sacraments chosen by any religious organization unless those items have proven to threaten the safety or rights of the members and others. Even if they find a cause of action, they are compelled to use the “least restrictive” way to further that compelling interest. This is further clarified by RLUIPA with mandates requiring that the courts exercise “strict scrutiny” of any proposed “substantial burden” upon religious freedoms before taking any action.
Sacrament utilization is not exclusive to Native Americans, it is a doctrine that is inclusive to any and all ethnicities and while there are some Sacraments that are unique to different ethnicities, many Sacraments are common to all of them, with the only difference being the carrier plants of the molecules of interest, and even the Sacraments they don’t have in common still share an overall similarity of spiritual effects and benefits. European Americans, African Americans, Asian Americans, Middle Eastern Americans, Oceanian Americans, and so forth all have the inherent and Constitutional right to practice their native religion or the religious doctrines of their ancestors, or to practice the doctrines of any culture that has ever existed on this planet, and they have the right to revise, modify, or pick and choose which parts of those doctrines they wish to apply to their lives. The U.S. government must not demand that these ethnic groups adhere only to traditional ways, as much of the data regarding their indigenous practices has been lost, and many of the traditions must be revised as many of them are no longer considered ethical or moral in today’s world.
There have been several other churches that have been holding sacred ceremonies with sacraments such as Peyote and Ayahuasca throughout America for decades and ever since the early 1990s.
The other churches are:
The Peyote Way Church (who works with the sacrament of Peyote)
The Santo Daime Church of Brazil, located in Oregon (who works with the sacrament of Ayahuasca)
The União do Vegetal (UDV) Church of Brazil, located in New Mexico (who also works with the sacrament of Ayahuasca).
Soul Quest Ayahuasca Church of Mother Earth
Oratory of Mystical Sacraments
And an unknown number of Oklevueha Native America Church branches.
Below is a list of requirements to qualify for a DEA exemption to the Controlled Substance Act. Church of Sacred Sacraments believes we meet or exceed these requirements.
(1) A religious belief
(2) which is sincere
(3) and the exercise of which has been substantially “burdened” by the law in question.
Then the burden of proof shifts to the government to show that:
(1) It has a “compelling interest” in burdening the religious practice, and
(2) It has burdened the practice in the least restrictive manner possible.
Let’s look at what each of these factors mean, as developed in entheogenic case law.
“Religious”: What makes a belief “religious” has never been defined by the courts, but there are criteria the courts use to distinguish “religious” from “philosophical” and “psychological” beliefs.
In the case US v Meyers, a man named Matthew Meyers appealed a conviction for growing and selling marijuana on religious grounds. The appeals court rejected the claim that the Church of Marijuana was a religion because its doctrine began and ended with its’ belief about marijuana, lacking “ultimate ideas” addressing “fundamental questions about the meaning and purpose of life”; “metaphysical beliefs” of a “transcendental” nature; “organized moral and ethical codes”; “comprehensiveness of beliefs”; and “accoutrements of religion,” such as sacred writings or teachings, clergy or keepers of knowledge, ceremonies, and rituals. Although there is still no formal legal definition of religion, these criteria, known as the “Meyers factors,” have been used as a guideline by the courts ever since.
“Sincere” means that a religion is not just made up to get around the law.
“Burdened” means that the law or government’s action prevents or impedes the practice of the religion. (In court, groups that use multiple entheogenic sacraments have lost their cases because no single sacrament is seen as essential to their religious practice.)
“Compelling interest” means that the government must show a compelling reason for disallowing the requested exception.
“Least restrictive” means what it sounds like — that the government must achieve its ends with the minimum restriction possible.
In the UDV case, the government did not contest the UDV’s status as a religion. The government’s entire argument was over two compelling interests presented by the government: public health and safety, and the danger of diversion to the black market.
In the Santo Daime case, the government did challenge the religious legitimacy of the church. But the judge ruled in the Daime’s favor on this point. So that case then also hinged on the government’s two “compelling interests” — first, public health and safety, and second, diversion to the black market. And these are the compelling interests that groups seeking RFRA exemptions will have to address
The following constitutes the request for a religious-based exemption by Church of Sacred Sacraments (COSS) to the provisions of the Controlled Substances Act, 21 U.S.C. §§ 801, et seq., specifically as it pertains to the ritual use by Church of Sacred Sacraments of peyote, psilocybin mushrooms, ayahuasca for its sacramental activities. Church of Sacred Sacraments 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”).
Church of Sacred Sacraments 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, Church of Sacred Sacraments 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 Church of Sacred Sacraments 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 Church of Sacred Sacraments, 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 Church of Sacred Sacraments' reasonable expectation that, upon serious consideration by the Drug Enforcement Administration and any cooperating agencies, that Church of Sacred Sacraments will be deemed eligible for its religious-based exemption.
Church of Sacred Sacraments 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 Church of Sacred Sacraments 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 Church of Sacred Sacraments 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/beliefs/who-we-are/beliefs.
Supportive materials relating to this breakdown of the nature of the Church of Sacred Sacraments faith and its liturgy are attached to this document. Ultimately, it is reasonably anticipated that DEA will grant Church of Sacred Sacraments' application for exemption, determining that Church of Sacred Sacraments 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, Church of Sacred Sacraments 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. Church of Sacred Sacraments remains confident that a review of this application, inclusive of all supplemental materials, will result in the granting of the requested exemption. Of course, Church of Sacred Sacraments 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.
In its simplest terms, “what does this mean?”
Under the federally-enacted RFRA the laws of the land and natural law; and our core religious tenets, Church of Sacred Sacraments is protected from governmental interference in our plant medicine ceremonies and other sacramental practices. These laws and beliefs allow members of the Church of Sacred Sacraments to freely exercise our religion by holding sacred ceremonies with the plant teachers that have been honored and worshiped for millennia across all cultures.
For further information please click the link below