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Entheogenic Churches: Why RFRA Exemption Is Not a One-Size-Fits-All Solution

By EP Admin

Introduction: Setting the Scene

If you’re a founder or aspiring leader of an entheogenic religious not-for-profit, you may be looking to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) as a safeguard against legal constraints. While RFRA has offered some groups a protective shield, it is not a straightforward or guaranteed path. This article aims to manage your expectations and provide a nuanced understanding of the complexities involved, especially if you’re part of an entheogenic community like the Entheology Project.

What Exactly is a Religious Exemption?

A religious exemption allows religious groups to bypass laws that “substantially burden” their practices. However, such exemptions are only granted when the government cannot justify its laws as the “least restrictive means” of achieving its goals. The case of the UDV group (Gonzales v. O Centro Espirita Beneficente Uniao do Vegetal, 2006) serves as a notable example.

The Myth of Easy Exemption: Case of Santo Daime

The Santo Daime church underwent a grueling legal battle to secure their RFRA exemption for the sacramental use of ayahuasca. This exemption is specific to them; each group must navigate its own complicated and often costly legal journey.

Defining ‘Religion’: A Complex Endeavor

Claiming an RFRA exemption requires proof that your beliefs are both “sincere” and “religious.” Courts usually refer to a set of factors, such as moral or ethical systems, ceremonies, and the comprehensiveness of beliefs, to determine the validity of a claim.

What Other RFRA Cases Teach Us

Reality Check: What This Means For You

  1. Prepare for Legal Complexity: Navigating RFRA is a complex legal endeavor requiring specialized expertise.
  2. Cost Implications: Legal battles can be financially draining.
  3. No Guarantees: Despite investing time and resources, success is not assured.


While the road to RFRA exemption is challenging, it’s not an impossible one. The Entheology Project offers an innovative approach by creating a collective framework for entheogenic churches and practitioners. Instead of individuals working in isolation or against each other, the Project aims to pool resources and knowledge to navigate the RFRA complexities. By becoming part of a larger, unified effort, individual members can leverage shared expertise and resources, thereby increasing the likelihood of securing an RFRA exemption for the entire community. This collective approach not only provides a stronger legal standing but also minimizes the financial risks involved, thereby turning the dream of religious freedom into an attainable reality.

This article should not be considered as legal advice. Always consult a qualified attorney for legal issues.

References and Case Laws

  1. United States v. Meyers, 95 F.3d 1475 (10th Cir. 1996).
  2. O Centro Espirita Beneficente Uniao do Vegetal v. Ashcroft, 282 F. Supp. 2d 1236 (D.N.M. 2002).
  3. Africa v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, 662 F.2d 1025 (3d Cir. 1981).
  4. Church of the Holy Light of the Queen v. Mukasey, 615 F. Supp. 2d 1210 (D. Or. 2009).
  5. Gonzales v. O Centro Espirita Beneficente Uniao do Vegetal, 546 U.S. 418 (2006).
  6. Tupper, K. W. (2008). The globalization of ayahuasca: Harm reduction or benefit maximization? International Journal of Drug Policy, 19(4), 297-303.
  7. Chacruna Guide on RFRA and Best Practices for Psychedelic Churches.
  8. Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., 573 U.S. 682 (2014).
  9. Holt v. Hobbs, 574 U.S. 352 (2015).
  10. Navajo Nation v. United States Forest Service, 535 F.3d 1058 (9th Cir. 2008).
  11. RFRA Curiae Brief (UDV).pdf, p. 7, pos. 47.
  12. RFRA Curiae Brief (UDV).pdf, p. 11, pos. 117.

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