INDIANS FIGHT PEYOTE, HALLUCINOGENIC TEA COMPARISON Three branches of the Native American Church object to a Santa Fe-based group comparing its use of a hallucinogenic tea with the church's use of peyote. In an amicus curiae or friend-of-the-court brief filed earlier this month, the Native American Church of Oklahoma, the Native American Church of North America and the Native American Church of the Kiowa Tribe opposed the group's assertion that it should be treated the same as the church in being allowed to use a controlled substance. O Centro Espirita Beneficiente Unaio Do Vegetal, or UDV, wants to stop the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency from confiscating a tea called hoasca. Hoasca, made from two Amazonian plants, contains N.N. dimethyltryptamine or DMT, a controlled substance. UDV President Jeffrey Bronfman sued the federal government after the DEA and other law-enforcement agencies seized 30 gallons of tea from his office in Santa Fe in 1999. No charges were filed. Last fall, U.S. District Judge James Parker heard a week and a half of testimony on UDV's motion for a preliminary injunction. Parker has yet to issue a ruling. UDV says it has the same right to use the tea as the Native American Church does to use the psychedelic cactus peyote. The churches' friend-of-the-court brief was written by C. Bryant Rogers and David Gomez of the Roth, VanAmberg, Rogers, Ortiz, Fairbanks & Yepa firm of Santa Fe. Gomez, a native of Taos Pueblo, is the acting chairman of the New Mexico Democratic Party. "It is not a fair comparison," Rogers said in an interview Thursday. "They have to establish their rights on their own merits." UDV attorney John Boyd said Friday that the three chapters do not represent all Native American Church members. "It's really regrettable that these particular Native American Church organizations feel that the only way to protect their exemption is to make sure that no other religion gets a similar exemption," Boyd said. Rogers and Gomez wrote that their clients take no position on the merits of UDV's claims based on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. But they argued that comparing UDV's rights with those of the church is "badly distorting and misrepresenting to this Court the nature, legal history and status of the Native American Church." "This is but the most recent in a long line of efforts by various individuals or religious groups to make such an Equal Protection challenge." Last year, UDV rejected a proposal for a friendly brief from the Santo Daime Church of the Holy Light of the Queen in Ashland, Ore., which uses a DMT-based tea called ayahuasca. UDV supported Santo Daime's legal analysis but opposed its participation in the development of an evidentiary record. Rogers and Gomez wrote that UDV incorrectly argues that the Native American Church is multiethnic, Christian and not restricted to American Indians. Other courts have held that the church is limited to American Indian members of federally recognized tribes, they wrote. Rogers said non-Indians occasionally participate in Native American Church rites, but courts have not exempted them from laws prohibiting peyote, although the Utah Supreme Court late last week agreed to hear arguments on whether non-Indians may use peyote in religious ceremonies. He said the U.S. Justice Department is seeking to amend its regulations to include only members of Indian tribes in its exemptions. Boyd and Nancy Hollander of the Freedman, Boyd, Daniels, Hollander, Goldberg & Cline firm in Albuquerque plan to file a response to the brief's arguments by Monday. But Boyd said Friday that the three Native American Church chapters are ignoring reality in denying the history of non-Indian participation in peyote rites and raising a false concern that the church's exemption for peyote might be abridged if UDV wins its case. "I think because of the difficult history that native people have had with our government over the past two centuries, their view is, somehow, some way, 'We're going to get screwed in this,' " Boyd said. "You can't blame them." Rogers and Gomez's brief says denying UDV the right to use hoasca will not deprive its members of their Constitutional rights. "We're basically saying the flaw in your argument is you're not similarly situated," Rogers said. "The bottom line is that there's a different history and political-legal status for the Native American Church as compared to any other non-Indian religion."