A new church near Elbe is hoping to facilitate “vision quests” for its members through the sacramental use of hallucinogens.
If successful, the church would be the first of its kind open to the public in the United States. Unsurprisingly, that mission has managed to catch the eye of the Lewis County Prosecutor’s Office.
On Jan. 20, the Oklevueha Native American Church of Ayahuasca Healings (also known as The Church of Ayahuasca Healings) sent an unsolicited letter to the Lewis County Prosecutor’s Office.
The letter explains in detail the spiritual intentions of the church and included documentation of the federal court cases they insist have established the right to practice their religion and imbibe of its accompanying sacraments.
Chief among those precedents is the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, which allows the use of controlled substances for religious ceremonies.
According to Lewis County Prosecutor Jonathan Meyer, his office was first made aware of The Church of Ayahuasca Healings by a concerned citizen back in December 2015. That report went unconfirmed, though, until the church sent their own letter to the prosecutor’s office last month.
“I think they want to have the open look to them, like they have nothing to hide,” Meyer said. “They have provided some fairly legal interpretations.”
Meyer is grateful for the upfront nature of the new church.
“It’s nice that they reached out and gave us some advance notice,” said Meyer, who noted that he believes ceremonies are supposed to begin this month. “Some more notice would have been nice, but I guess you can’t look a gift horse in the mouth.”
Although the exact location of The Church of Ayahuasca Healings is not yet known, the letter received by the prosecutor’s offices notes that the 160-acre property is “near Elbe,” a small town on the Lewis and Pierce county line north of Mineral.
According to Meyer and Deputy Prosecutor Eric Eisenberg, the property is likely located in between Elbe and Mineral, just within the Lewis County boundary.
“It’s important to mention that we haven’t actually talked to them yet,” said Eisenberg.
Although the prosecutor’s office received the letter from the church in January, a lack of a listed phone number or physical address has slowed early efforts for a two-way dialogue.
According to Eisenberg, there are a number of issues that could ultimately cause friction between Lewis County and the church.
The stated intention of the church to provide two types of drugs listed as Schedule 1 by the federal government to their parishioners.
Eisenberg said that more mundane concerns, such as water quality, septic systems and possible building code violations, are more likely to stall the church’s quest.
Meyer and Eisenberg insisted that they are not targeting the church because of its drug affiliations.
Rather, they are simply seeking a pre-submission conference between church leaders and the community development and health divisions of county government before the church’s doors are opened to the public.
“That’s the same concern we would have with anybody,” explained Eisenberg.
Trinity de Guzman is listed as the president of The Church of Ayahuasca Healings. His church’s website goes into great detail about the religious protections afforded to church members seeking to use controlled substances in order to perform sacred ceremonies. In its letter to county prosecutors, the church listed the Huachuma, or San Pedro cactus (mescaline), as well as Ayahuasca (DMT), as the psychoactive substances they intend to use.
While Meyer believes that there may be a few points in the church’s argument that stretch the intent of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, he also thinks that the church is likely standing on solid ground when it comes to their position on the sacred use of hallucinogens.
“Federal law makes it clear that they can do what they are trying to do,” said Meyer, who added, “I think a court would side with a church 99 times out of 100.”
The Church of Ayahuasca Healings was officially recognized by leaders of their religion on Dec. 15, 2015. In their letter to prosecutors, the church noted “as a practical matter, it is extremely unlikely that any adverse events associated with these ceremonies will ever be on your radar screen.”
Still, the church added in the letter that they intend to take numerous steps in order to prevent any missteps in the eyes of the law.
First, participants will be subject to a lengthy interview process in order to vet their sincerity and turn away thrill seekers.
Secondly, the hallucinogenic compounds will only be administered under the observation of a church minister as part of the sacred ceremonies in order to prevent the drugs from escaping the compound.
Church members will also be required to surrender their car keys before the ceremony in order to prevent anyone from leaving early and driving under the influence.
Lastly, experienced personnel will be on hand to help to counsel or care for any persons experiencing negative effects from the drugs.
In order for a person to receive protection from prosecution, they must be an authentic member of the church. Part of the registration process is a suggested donation between $1,497 and $1,997. Limited scholarships are also available that would bring the donation amount down to $500. According to the church’s website, all donations are tax deductible.
The church’s letter to county prosecutors noted that, “Because of the special dignity offered religious exercises by RFRA, the church should not have to keep its ministry a secret.”
At this early juncture, at least one thing is for certain when it comes to The Church of Ayahuasca Healings; Their ministry is no longer a secret.