The Internal Revenue Service is upholding its decision to deny tax-exempt status to a self-proclaimed church in Des Moines that allegedly uses a hallucinogenic drug in religious ceremonies.
Earlier this year, the Iowaska Church of Healing sued the IRS in U.S. district court, challenging the federal agency’s decision to deny church status as a nonprofit. and tax exempt.
State records indicate that the church was formed in Iowa in September 2018 and is headed by Admir Dado Kantarevic, along with Billy Benskin and Merzuk Ramic. The official location of the church is Kantarevic’s House, located at 4114 27th St., Des Moines. The lawsuit refers to the church having 20 members at one time.
Kantarevic says the church has never held ceremonies at his home or anywhere else in Iowa state.
In court documents, the church said that in January 2019, it filed with the IRS for tax-exempt status and was denied. With help from the office of US Senator Chuck Grassley, the lawsuit alleges, the appeal process to the IRS was expedited and an appeal conference was held in April of this year.
A final determination letter denying tax-exempt status was issued in June this year, declaring that the church’s use of the âAyahuasca sacramentâ in its religious practices was illegal, according to the lawsuit.
In response to the church’s lawsuit seeking judicial review of its decision, the IRS said in recently filed court documents that the denial “was made for multiple reasons,” including findings that the “activities of church are illegal under federal law and violate public order, âand that it isâ neither a church nor a convention or association of churches âwithin the meaning of of federal tax regulations.
The teachings of the church are built around the use of ayahuasca, which is brewed from the leaves of shrubs and vines found in the Amazon. The elements of these plants have powerful hallucinogenic properties, which the church says can be used to awaken the “third eye” of its followers.
The third eye is described by the church on its website as “an organ that no one talks about in school or in private” and which is “secretly protected at the geometric center of your skull.”
In court records, the church acknowledges that under federal Controlled Substances Act an ingredient in ayahuasca called dimethyltryptamine, or DMT, is a Schedule I drug and a hallucinogenic alkaloid, and that it there is no legal exemption allowing its use in religious ceremonies.
The lawsuit says ayahuasca is consumed in the form of tea during religious ceremonies in the church and that its services “also involve prayers, purifications and spiritual music.” The basis of its doctrine emanates from the Ayahuasca Manifesto, a document that details the role of ayahuasca in the expansion of consciousness, according to the church.
In February 2019, the church filed an application with the Drug Enforcement Administration, seeking a religious exemption from the Controlled Substance Act. To date, according to the church, the DEA has provided no “substantial response” to the request, despite repeated follow-up requests.
Court records indicate that in December 2005, Kantarevic, then a personal trainer, was convicted of possession of anabolic steroids and sentenced to one year of probation. He was charged in connection with a federal investigation into the illegal importation of steroids for bodybuilders.
As part of Kantarevic’s guilty plea, he admitted that he understood that the drugs were from an internationally renowned bodybuilder and were intended for another competitive bodybuilder who was one of the main contenders in the Mr. Universe competition. 2004.