The right of the União do Vegetal to practice our faith as a legitimate exercise of religion was unanimously confirmed by the Supreme Court of the United States on February 21st, 2006. The decision was a landmark victory for all those who treasure religious freedom, and since that day the case has been cited in over 1,200 Judicial Actions and Law Review articles that relate to religious liberty. In defending its rights, the União do Vegetal has adopted the principles of respecting the Law, transparency in its activities and permanent availability to cooperate with the authorities, in seeking the best way to represent the common interest.
Despite the confirmation of the UDV’s fundamental legitimacy, misconceptions may exist regarding our faith and the use of our sacrament, Hoasca. The following details the legal history of the UDV in the United States.
Supreme Court Case
On November 22, 2000, the UDV filed a lawsuit against certain agencies of the federal government for violations of the First Amendment to the US Constitution and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).
RFRA requires that the government not interfere with religious conduct unless it can demonstrate to a court that it has a “compelling interest” in doing so. If it is unable to do so, RFRA requires the government to allow people to practice their religion.
On February 21, 2006 the United States Supreme Court issued an unanimous decision affirming Religious Liberty in the case of Gonzales vs. O Centro Espirita Beneficente União do Vegetal.
More information about the Supreme Court case, including detailed historical information and legal documentation can be found here.
Santa Fe County
In July of 2009, the Santa Fe, New Mexico chapter of the UDV requested a building permit to construct a temple for its religious services on the same land in Santa Fe county where it had realized its ceremonies over a period of more than 14 years.
The Santa Fe County Commission, ignoring the recommendation of its own hired engineers, land use staff, and County Development Review Committee (all of which recommended approval of the UDV’s application) voted to deny the request.
Finding that the county’s decision to deny the UDV’s request was discriminatory in nature, on February 2, 2012, the local UDV church filed a lawsuit in New Mexico Federal District Court. The action sought a judgment against Santa Fe County under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), the Equal Protection clause of the constitution, and other federal and New Mexico state laws securing the right to free exercise of religion.
Through this lawsuit, the Santa Fe chapter of the UDV sought to be able to construct a house of worship and to exercise rights already granted by law.
On May 17th, 2012, Subsequent to the UDV’s filing its Request for Judicial Relief, the Santa Fe County defendants filed a motion asking the court to dismiss the lawsuit altogether (without even formally hearing the case). The UDV’s formal response to that motion is available here.
On May 25th, 2012, the assistant Attorney General for the Government of the United States filed a “Statement of Interest in Opposition” to the Santa Fe County defendant’s Motion to Dismiss the UDV case. This almost unprecedented show of support from the Federal Government (in the application of its laws protecting civil liberties) was also signed by United States Attorney for the State of New Mexico, the assistant U.S. Attorney for the Civil Division of the same U.S. Attorney’s office, and trial lawyers from the United States Department of Justice Civil Rights Division in Washington. This document is available here.
On November 8th 2012, the UDV, through its lawyers and authorized representatives, reached a mediated settlement agreement with the lawyers and representatives of the Board of Santa Fe County Commissioners bringing the federal lawsuit to a peaceful resolution. Under the terms of the agreement, the UDV is being granted the building permit, which had previously been denied.
As part of the settlement agreement the Board of County Commissioners, on November 27th, signed a new order which “vacated” the previous order “in its entirety . . . to have no force and effect and shall have no value as precedent for future applications of the applicant, or any other applicant”. A copy of the County’s order resulting from the settlement agreement is available here.
On December 10th, 2014, the New Mexico branch of the UDV received full license and authorization from the Santa Fe County officials to initiate the building of its temple. A temple dedicated to the religious use of the sacrament of the UDV, Hoasca, which had been validated by The Supreme Court of the United States in 2006.
The local UDV community, Núcleo Santa Fe, for more than 5 years had been struggling to overcome a well funded campaign in opposition to the church’s construction, based upon evident prejudice, misunderstanding and fear by some neighborhood residents. Ultimately the UDV had to go back to court to secure the rights that the county officials, who issue construction permits, had previously denied the church. In the process of doing so, the group gathered more expert testimony that could used in the future, by other UDV Communities facing organized opposition to the exercise of their religious rights in the United States and around the world.
The legal dispute between the UDV, Santa Fe County, and various neighbors was successfully settled out of court in March of 2017. The UDV in Santa Fe is pleased to coexist peacefully with its neighbors in Santa Fe.