Justice for Our Religious Community – #FreeClayV


Board of Director for the NAAVC, Clay Villanueva was arrested on August 23rd at Los Angeles International Airport, while boarding a plane to return to Peru for cancer treatment.  NAAVC Attorney Charles Carreon summarizes events in this case as follows: “Two weeks after Mr. Villanueva sued the DEA, Maricopa County, and the State of Arizona for civil rights violations, what did they do?  They raided my client’s home at gun point, convened a secret grand jury to issue a grand jury indictment, obtained a secret warrant that doesn’t even bear the name of the issuing judge, imprisoned him unjustly, and imposed excessive bail so he is literally starving and freezing to death inside the Maricopa County Jail.  Sadly, the rest of the nation likely sees this as Arizona justice at its finest.”

We’re thrilled to have helped garner Clay’s release on bail Sept 27th. There is still a legal battle ahead.  Help us right this ongoing injustice against your community.  Help us now.  View NAAVC filings here:  Federal Court Filings & Complaints

Clay Villanueva is a minister for a small ayahuasca visionary church in Phoenix, Arizona.  He describes his church as a religious center for the spiritual healing of people with addictions, grief, loss, and life challenges of all types including depression and PTSD resulting from war combat, “We’ve been here to help people heal the spirit, so they can heal their minds and bodies as well.  Our communion sacrament is ayahuasca.  Who can honestly say they have the authority to deny us our right to connect with God?”

We will be posting a new video to further update you  this week.

The small ayahuasca church, Arizona Yagé Assembly (AYA), and the North American Association of Visionary Churches (NAAVC) are actively suing the Drug Enforcement Agency in Federal District Court in Phoenix.  You can help us in our ongoing legal action as Plaintiffs against the DEA. In Spring of 2020, in partnership with NAAVC, AYA sued the DEA in order to bring the DEA into compliance with federal court mandate, federal statute, federal administrative law, and constitutional law. Quite seriously, the DEA had gone rogue and someone needed to call them on it.

Here’s some background. On February 21, 2006, the US Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision affirming the right of O Centro Espírita Beneficente União do Vegetal, to continue their religious practice with the sacramental use of ayahuasca. That decision by the court, including a remand to a lower court, also established a legal frame requiring the DEA to establish an exemption process for visionary churches to practice with ayahuasca.

Since 2006, as part of that court mandate, the DEA has issued exactly zero exemptions. Exemption applications themselves have been sparse — not that surprising, since by applying, churches are required by the regulatory agency to agree under penalty of perjury to the stipulation that they not engage in their religious practice until the DEA has determined that they are, in fact, a sincere and federally approved religious entity. The court never granted the DEA this authority. No one has. For those of you who follow things like the US Constitution, the First Amendment grants the following: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof . . . ” For this and a raft of other reasons the DEA lacks the authority to openly defy the federal court for going on 15 years now. So we sued.

To complicate matters for themselves, following our written petitions to the DEA, and the filing of our lawsuit in Federal District Court in the Spring of 2020, the DEA initiated a raid on the home of Clay Villanueva, one of the NAAVC’s board of directors. AYA makes a clear case in our suit that the raid was in retaliation for the temerity by the NAAVC and its board to demand that the DEA adhere to the law.

More pointedly, what the DEA had engaged in was intimidation of a religious community, in addition to witness tampering in an ongoing federal court case. Perhaps the DEA didn’t like our petition campaign, drawing public attention to their rogue shenanigans. That petition, sent to the DEA well in advance of our lawsuit and the raid on Clay Villanueva’s home currently has over 1500 signatures, as of this writing. Perhaps it looked to the DEA like visionary churches had become emboldened, and they wanted to send a message. Perhaps they reasoned that successfully ignoring one church at a time with a bogus exemption process was one thing, but dealing with a mass religious movement is quite another.

Perhaps the DEA didn’t reason at all. Both DEA action and inaction may simply be evidenced by an agency culture enmeshed in conscious indifference, all too willing to engage in stonewalling and intimidation, while refusing to respond to all written avenues of communication . . . until directed to respond under federal court action. That’s where we are today, federal court. Our case is currently being heard in United States District Court for the District of Arizona in Phoenix. Our judge is the Honorable Roslyn O. Silver. Judge Silver has already denied all the defense’s motions to dismiss this case as moot. The DEA is being given one final opportunity to make their case for dismissal. Should that fail, this case will be heard. Some of it will be decided by Judge Silver in summary judgement and other portions, most notably our civil rights claims, will go to trial.

Our case is earning its day in federal court. We have much farther to go in this case. Our objective is to free visionary churches across the US from agency intimidation, in addition to halting illegal seizures of our community’s religious sacrament. We’ve made great strides. We have much farther to go in this case, much of it uphill. We will not rest until our religious community is freed from the presence of seizures, threats, and intimidation. We’re demanding to stand on equal footing with every religion in this country. There’s strength in numbers. Stand with us.

Mission Statement

We are dedicated to protecting the rights and practices of visionary churches across North America, while building bridges for spiritual practice across the Americas. Our mission goals include:

      • Working for the legal rights of the visionary-church community
      • Advancing education and support among North American churches communing through visionary sacraments
      • Raising awareness on the legitimacy of Ayahuasca in religious practice
      • Sponsoring educational opportunities on topics related to visionary plant sacraments and best practices among visionary churches. 
      • Cultural outreach by member churches for sharing their positive work in society
      • Advancing interfaith practices in growing healthy communities
      • Supporting visionary churches in raising their collective voice
      • Outreach to all faiths, the medical community,  and academia
      • Furthering a return of spiritual practice within the medical practice
      • Outreach to South American based churches for common cause
      • Establishing clear, safe, and legal pathways for the importation of Ayahuasca into North America for the benefit of member churches

 

About Us

NAAVC is ecumenical in serving a broad range of churches with legal, informational, and network support in the protection of their rights for the free practice of religion.  As a California state non-profit (2019), NAAVC is reaching out to visionary churches interested in becoming founding members.  NAAVC is an organization of churches seeking to support their rights for their free expression of religion.  We have a three-person governing board in addition to an Organizing and Legal Advisory board. Membership is private and confidential.  

 

Membership

Membership is for North American based churches engaged in the sacramental use of Ayahuasca and other sacramental plants.  Being a member doesn’t confer special legal rights or privileges; rather, it’s a way for visionary churches to stand together to protect their common right to the free practice of religion.  There’s strength in numbers, and power in solidarity.  Membership lists are shared only with other member churches, and will be protected from disclosure by all lawful means.   

Who should join?

    • Churches whose leaders understand that by standing together, we can advance our common cause most effectively.
    • Churches seeking legally protected status for their spiritual practice and communion services
    • Churches doing pro-social work in a safe environment.   
    • Churches seeking to establish visionary spiritual practice for today and future generations.
    • Churches participating in a growing social movement to advance the truly free practice of visionary religion.
    • Churches that are ready to say . . . “We’re a church working with other churches to secure our rights to a free and open spiritual practice.”

When you register you’ll have the opportunity to either share or not share your church contact information with other churches.

Annual membership is $200.  Churches applying before October 1, 2019 will become NAAVC founding members.

 

 

FAQ

What is the NAAVC?

We are a non-profit group serving North American churches engaged in the use of visionary sacraments.

NAAVC is ecumenical in serving a broad range of churches with legal, informational, and networking support for the maintenance of their rights to the free expression of religion.

 

Why join?

Be proactive about your church’s legal status.  If you represent a church doing pro-social work in a safe environment, joining NAAVC will put your church leadership in touch with other likeminded churches to protect our chosen spiritual practice today and for future generations. 

 

Will our membership list be kept confidential?

When you register you’ll have the opportunity to either share or not share your church contact information with other churches.  Member churches can enjoy the benefits of NAAVC’s legal strategy without having their identity revealed to the public or to law enforcement authorities.

 

How will NAAVC serve its member churches?

Our membership receives regular newsletters with legal updates on court cases and government policy changes potentially effecting member churches.  Member churches that wish to have an attorney review their practices and procedures for legal compliance will have access to direct consultations at membership rates on federal law with our staff attorney after a legally-required conflict check.  NAAVC will be building a “brief bank” of relevant authorities accessible to attorneys representing NAAVC member churches.  In addition, we support our membership by facilitating pathways to communication between churches and the wider communities they serve.

 

What was the inspiration for starting the NAAVC?

Necessity.  We saw a common need among churches for an organization that can advance the interests of visionary churches as a whole.  We also saw a need to acknowledge the common practices and religious sentiment among visionary churches.  In addition, we acknowledged that legal obstacles remain for visionary churches seeking to exercise their religious rights.  The NAAVC is stepping in to fill a gap. We see common interests and common goals among churches. We’re inspired by the potential for cross-affiliating between churches of varying practice, but common interest.   We believe there’s strength in numbers, and that the community is ready to move forward into a new era in which visionary churches are able to practice completely free of legal concerns.

 

Does NAAVC have a legal strategy?

Yes.  NAAVC’s legal strategy is focused on helping member churches obtain the greatest possible level of legal protection for their spiritual beliefs and communion practices.  NAAVC’s Staff Attorney has over thirty years in practice and a deep background in both federal criminal defense and state court prosecution, is strongly committed to the cause of visionary religion, and during the past year has collaborated with a team of like-minded attorneys to prepare a series of legal analyses that outline how visionary churches can fully realize the promise of free exercise of religion held out by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the First Amendment, and controlling judicial rulings.  The goal of NAAVC’s legal agenda is to act cautiously and wisely to secure clear lawful status for member churches while helping them to protect themselves from all foreseeable legal hazards.

 

Are the legal analyses supporting NAAVC’s legal strategy available for review?

Yes.  Access them by clicking the following links.

It’s Time for an Association of Visionary Churches to Stand Up and Claim the Religious Freedom To Which They Are Entitled   by Charles Carreon 

Be Careful What You Wish For — The Peril of Regulated Status for Psychedelic Churches by Charles Carreon

The DEA’s Guidance Regarding Petitions for Religious Exemption from the Controlled Substances Act under RFRA: Door to Religious Freedom or Fifth Amendment Trap for the Unwary?   by Charles Carreon

 

Contact Us

North American Association of Visionary Churches (NAAVC)

1 Sansome Street
Suite 3500
San Francisco, CA 94104

Tel: 1-415-992-8172

Email: action@NAAVC.org