IRS defends denial of Iowa church's tax-free status over use of psychedelic drug

The church refers to a 2006 Supreme Court Ruling in which the court recognized the use of Ayahuasca in religious ceremonies under the First Amendment.


An Iowa church is having trouble getting its tax-exempt status because of the use of a psychedelic drug in its ceremonies.

The Iowaska Church of Healing was founded in 2018, according to state records, and is registered to a home in Des Moines.

What's in question is whether or not it can use Ayahuasca in its ceremonies. Ayahuasca is a plant-based psychedelic drug that has DMT in it, which is a hallucinogenic that is banned under the Federal Controlled Substances Act.

Court records claim the church's mission is to "help individuals attain healing of the mind, body and spirit through the sacred Sacrament of Ayahuasca under the guidelines of North and South American indigenous traditions and cultural values. Ayahuasca is consumed in the form of a tea during Plaintiff’s religious ceremonies."

On Jan. 10, 2019, the church filed to become a 501(c)(3) organization with the IRS. It also filed a request for a religious exemption with the DEA a month later.

"To date, the Plaintiff has received no substantive response from the DEA with respect to the application despite repeated requests for a reply, including a follow-up inquiry by the United States Senator Charles Grassley's Office," the complaint reads.

By August 2019, the church had 20 members, according to the filing, but stopped holding ceremonies as of Aug. 18, 2019, because it feared "law enforcement intrusion into their sacred ceremonies and prosecution."

It filed a protest against the IRS determination on its 501(c)(3) status on July 13, 2020, and was later denied on Sept. 1, 2020.

In its court filing, the church said it planned to operate in one or more locations conducting services using Ayahuasca. Plus, it planned to operate various educational and mission groups and give outreach to United States Veterans.

In its complaint, the Iowaska Church refers to a 2006 Supreme Court Ruling in which the court recognized the use of Ayahuasca in religious ceremonies under First Amendment rights for a different church.

The IRS in its latest filing states Iowaska is not an organized church and does not operate exclusively for exempt purposes.

"Plaintiff's activities are illegal under federal law and violate public policy," the IRS stated in its defense.

Sister station KCCI reached out to the IRS, which declined to comment. The lawyer for the church also declined to comment.