The União do Vegetal (Centro Espírita Beneficente União do Vegetal or UDV) is a Christian religion based on the use of Hoasca (or Ayahuasca) in a program of spiritual evolution based on mental concentration and the search for self-knowledge. According to udvusa.com, “Centro Espirita Beneficente União do Vegetal (UDV) is a Spiritist Christian religion that blends Indigenous and Amazonian spiritual traditions within Christian theology. Throughout human history it has been a common phenomenon for new religious faiths to emerge, as a result of adapting and combining aspects of different traditions. Christianity itself began this way. UDV emerged as a distinct religious practice in the Brazilian Amazon in 1961, but its anthropological and oral history goes back far longer, for hundreds of years.
‘União do Vegetal’ literally means ‘the union of the plants.’ Central to UDV’s religious tradition and practice is the sacramental use of hoasca, a tea made from two plants indigenous to the Brazilian Amazon – the vine banisteriopsis caapi and a bush botanically related to the coffee plant, psychotria viridis. Religious practitioners ritually prepare the tea and consider it sacred, much as Catholics believe the wine they take at communion to be a sacrament. Indians and forest peoples have used hoasca (although sometimes referring to it by different names such as ayahuasca or yage) continuously for centuries to increase spiritual perception. Many anthropologists believe the use of this religious sacrament goes back to the beginnings of the great Inca civilization of Peru.
In the UDV, church members only use the hoasca tea in the context of religious ceremony. The sacrament imbues UDV members with a heightened spiritual awareness that permits them to experience communion with God.
UDV has temples in over 100 cities and villages throughout Brazil with a membership of close to 10,000 adherents. Approximately 140 UDV members live in the United States. They wish to practice their religion in peace under the protection of U.S. law and the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution. UDV is not interested in publicity and does not actively proselytize for new members.”
Legality in the United States
In 2001, the 10th Circuit Court of New Mexico granted a preliminary injunction preventing the Government from interfering with UDV’s religious use of Hoasca. The Government appealed and the appeals court stayed the injunction of the lower court. In December 2004, the Supreme Court lifted a stay thereby allowing the church to use Hoasca tea in their Christmas services that year. The Supreme Court heard oral arguments for the case on November 1, 2005.
On February 21, 2006 the Supreme Court issued its ruling on the case. The court ruled, unanimously, that the lower courts had not erred in holding that the federal government had failed to prove the “compelling interest” in barring UDV use of hoasca required under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Hence, this Supreme Court ruling made it legal for UDV members to use ayahuasca within the context of their religious ceremonies.
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