15 years since the UDV’s U.S. Supreme Court Victory

André Fagundes*

| 4 March, 2021

Members of União do Vegetal in front of U.S. Supreme Court after the hearing (Washington-DC, November 1, 2005).

February 21st of this year marked the 15th anniversary since the United States Supreme Court published the decision that guaranteed the Beneficent Spiritist Center União do Vegetal the free exercise of religious worship in the US. The UDV’s unanimous victory in the highest court of law in the US is a landmark not just for the institution and its affiliates, but also for the defense of the fundamental right to free exercise of religion. For this reason, the case is considered one of the most important religious freedom cases ever tried by the country’s Supreme Court in the last century.

After extensive and in-depth research into the effects of Hoasca tea on human health, the Supreme Court rejected the US Government’s claim that its use would be harmful, given the religious context in which it is administered, coupled with the care taken in importation, storage and use of the Vegetal. Additionally, the supervision by members of the Center’s Leadership (experienced members who occupy a place of responsibility within the institution’s hierarchy) makes the environment where the UDV members receive their sacrament a safe one.

This position included thorough explanations by Dr. Glacus de Souza Brito (in memoriam) (Mestre of the UDV, consultant for the World Health Organization and Director of the União do Vegetal’s Medical and Scientific Department – DEMEC, at that time), in addition to major support from other medical experts who were consulted in the lawsuit, including Dr. John Halpern (Associate Director of Substance Abuse Research at McLean Hospital, an affiliate of Harvard Medical School), and Dr. Juan Sanchez-Ramos (professor of Neurology, Pharmacology and Psychiatry at the University of South Florida School of Medicine).

Also noteworthy in this work was the great dedication of Jeffrey Bronfman (the Representative Mestre at that time of Nucleo Santa Fe in New Mexico) throughout the lengthy proceedings, which culminated in a unanimous decision by the Supreme Court.

Another aspect that the Court took notice of was the sincerity in the beliefs held by the UDV members, who drink the Vegetal of their free and spontaneous will and who maintained their faith during the legal battle as they fought for the freedom of their religious expression, as well as the fact that the institution’s leaders work out of devotion for the religious work, without receiving any type of financial compensation.

In light of the absence of any deviation from sacramental purpose for commercial or recreational use by the religious institution, the Supreme Court unanimously granted the União do Vegetal an exemption from the Controlled Substance Act for its religious rituals.

Currently, the União do Vegetal maintains regularly operating temples in eight US states: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, New Mexico, Washington, Texas and Hawaii.

*André Fagundes is a Legal Advisor to the Novo Encanto Association for Ecological Development and a member of the Instructive Body of Nucleo Samaúma (São Paulo-SP).

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