Jeffrey Bronfman served as president of the União do Vegetal Church (UDV) in the United States from 1993 to 2005. In 2000 Jeffrey spearheaded a historic legal action against The Government of United States for the legal right to utilize the church’s sacramental tea known as hoasca. A tea that is more commonly known as “ayahuasca”.
In the early nineties, Jeffrey Bronfman, an ecological activist, began making trips to the rain forest. There he became fascinated by U.D.V., as the religion is known, and first drank hoasca tea. Bronfman learned Portuguese and trained to become a mestre, which is the title given to the clergy in the faith.
Jeffrey Bronfman is also a member of ICEERS Ayahuasca Defense Fund’s steering committee, a body made up of expert lawyers, strategists and others, that helps people wanting to use ‘teacher plants’ as part of their personal or religious growth, but who find themselves facing legal challenges.
The União do Vegetal (UDV) is a Christian Spiritist religion that originated in Brazil and is now practiced by over 18,000 people in nine countries. The UDV has received numerous civic awards for its community and environmental service and is recognized as a church under the laws of the United States.
União do Vegetal literally means “the union of the plants.” Adherents drink a tea within their religious services that is made from two plants indigenous to the Brazilian Amazon. The tea, known as Hoasca, is revered as sacred by UDV members. It is a sacrament serving to heighten spiritual understanding and perception and bring the practitioners closer to God.
The Supreme Court Case
In 1999, a shipment of the religion’s sacrament, Hoasca tea, was confiscated by federal agents in a raid on Bronfman’s office. No arrests were made. Subsequently, the UDV, Bronfman and several other church member plaintiffs, sued the federal government on the basis that this violated their right to religious freedom, citing a variety of laws and treaties that should have protected their right to use it, including the First Amendment and The Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The court-case and legal wrangling lasted until 2010, with Bronfman serving as the lead plaintiff in the action. The UDV ultimately won, and became the first, entity granted the authority to import a Schedule I controlled substance (the Hoasca tea) for their strictly religious, sacramental use.