The O Centro Espirita Beneficente Uniao do Vegetal Church (UDV) recently filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the District of New Mexico against the Board of County Commissioners of Santa Fe County alleging violations of RLUIPA in connection with the Boards denial of the UDVs application to build an 11,000 square foot temple and other structures on 2.5 acres of land (click here to read the Complaint).
As alleged in the Complaint, the UDV is a highly-structured Christian Spiritist religion that originated in Brazil in the 1950s and was formally established there on July 22, 1961. The UDV Church was established in the U.S. in the 1990s.Further, [c]entral and essential to the UDV religion is the sincere, sacramental use of hoasca, a tea made from two plants native to the Amazon River basin that has been found to contain a very small amount of naturally-occurring dimethyltryptamine . . . [a hallucinogenic], which appears on the list of Schedule I controlled substances. 21 U.S.C. Section 812.
The UDV alleges that the land on which is seeks to construct a temple, 5 Brass Horse Road, has religious significance to the church and its members due to a religious ceremony held there in 1996 involving the highest spiritual authority of the UDV, who traveled from the churchs international headquarters in Brazil. The UDV conducted religious ceremonies in a temporary structure at that site until 2006, when they moved to another location because the congregation had become too large to accommodate in the temporary structure.
In 2009, the UDV applied for a permit to construct a permanent temple at 5 Brass Horse Road. Neighbors opposed the UDVs application, citing concerns related to traffic, noise, the residential character of the neighbor, and various health and safety issues in connection with its use of hallucinogenic tea.
On October 25, 2011, the Board denied the UDVs application for a permit to construct the temple, finding that, among other things, the UDV had vastly understated the water budget necessary, the temple would not conform to the character of the neighborhood, and [t]here exists a neurotoxic hazard from the . . . [hallucinogenic] tea . . . [that] would survive passage through a septic tanks.
The UDV alleges that the Boards actions have substantially burdened its exercise of religion and constitute discrimination on the basis of religion. It also alleges that the Citys land use code was imposed and implemented on unequal terms. Recently, the Board moved to dismiss the RLUIPA claims on the ground that the UDV failed to properly state those claims, and, even if the Board substantially burdened the UDVs exercise of religion, it has a compelling interest to maintain its neutral and generally applicable land use code.
The United States Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a brief, stating in part: The United States has a strong interest in the RLUIPA arguments raised in the Defendants Motion to Dismiss, which include issues on which the Tenth Circuit has yet to rule, and believes that its participation will aid the Court in their resolution. In its brief, the DOJ argues that the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals has yet to rule on RLUIPAs substantial burden standard. To read the DOJs brief, click here.