New Mexico

New Mexico Church Sues US Over Religious Discrimination

José Carlos Garcia, one of the church's leaders, says federal agencies responsible for processing his family's visa applications have left the family in legal limbo

Department of Homeland Security sign
Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

The New Mexico branch of a church that uses hallucinogenic tea as a sacrament is suing the federal government for failing to process immigration documents for one of its religious leaders.

O Centro Espirita Beneficente União do Vegetal filed a lawsuit last week in U.S. District Court over claims of religious discrimination, the Santa Fe New Mexican reports.

The lawsuit comes after José Carlos Garcia, a Brazilian man who has led the church’s Florida congregation since 2013, applied for visas that would allow him and his family to continue living in the United States while their immigration cases are pending.

But the federal agencies responsible for processing their applications have left the family in legal limbo. Some applications have been pending for two years, according to the suit.

This has prevented Garcia from traveling to religious meetings outside the United States, infringing on his religious freedom, the lawsuit said.

Garcia’s wife, Silva Garcia, is a civil servant for the Brazilian government who took a six-year leave to accompany her husband to the United States. She needs to return to Brazil to ensure she is able to receive her pension, according to the suit.

The lawsuit names the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the Department of State and other federal agencies as defendants.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services did not respond to an email seeking comment.

The U.S. Supreme Court in 2006 ruled the federal government did not demonstrate a compelling reason why the church could not use hallucinogenic tea for religious purposes.

The church’s local members practiced informally for years before opening a temple southeast of Santa Fe in 2016 after an extended legal battle with Santa Fe County over water and other issues. The local congregation serves as the church’s North American headquarters.

The religion is practiced by 20,000 members in 11 countries, according to the suit.

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