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MATTHEW S.

PAPPAS
A T T O R N E Y
1719 E. BROADWAY
LONG BEACH, CA 90802

E-MAIL:
OFFICE@MATTPAPPASLAW.COM

(949) 382-1485
FACSIMILE: (949) 382-1512

January 19, 2016


VIA FACSIMILE ONLY
(707) 565-2762
Ms. Jill Ravitch
Sonoma County District Attorney
600 Administration Drive, Room 212 J
Santa Rosa, CA 95403
Re: Oklevueha Native American Church
Garcia, Saul A., member
1142 Lawdale Rd., Kenwood, CA
Dear Ms. Ravitch:
I represent the Oklevueha Native American Church. Last year, the church
opened a branch in Kenwood. On multiple occasions, Sonoma County officials scoffed
at church members attempting to obtain county permits. Thereafter, Sonoma County
Sheriffs officers raided the church on September 14, 2015 with officers poking fun at
members, joking about the church and making discriminatory and inappropriate racial
remarks. The above referenced church member, Saul Garcia, was arrested and detained
by officers during that raid.
The land use provisions of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act
of 2000 (RLUIPA), 42 U.S.C. 2000cc, et seq., protect individuals, houses of worship,
and other religious institutions from discrimination in zoning and land use laws.
Religious assemblies, especially, new, small, or unfamiliar ones, may be illegally
discriminated against by local governments and also in the highly individualized and
discretionary processes of land use regulation. Zoning codes and land use laws may
illegally exclude religious assemblies or may permit religious assemblies only with
individualized permission from local government. To address these concerns, RLUIPA
prohibits zoning and land use laws that substantially burden the religious exercise of
churches or other religious assemblies or institutions absent the least restrictive means

Ms. Jill Ravitch


Sonoma County District Attorney
January 19, 2016
Page Two

of furthering a compelling governmental interest. This prohibition applies in any


situation where: (i) the state or local government entity imposing the substantial burden
receives federal funding; (ii) the substantial burden affects, or removal of the
substantial burden would affect, interstate commerce; or (iii) the substantial burden
arises from the state or local governments formal or informal procedures for making
individualized assessments of a propertys uses. In addition, RLUIPA prohibits zoning
and land use laws that:
(1)

discriminate against any assemblies or institutions on the basis of religion


or religious denomination;

(2)

totally exclude religious assemblies from a jurisdiction; or

(3)

unreasonably limit religious assemblies, institutions, or structures within a


jurisdiction.

The Oklevueha Native American Church (ONAC) was established in April of


1997 in Gunnison, Utah by James Mooney, the progeny of Native Americans, and by his
wife Linda, also of Native American descent. James Mooney is a descendant of Osceola
(1804-1838), an influential leader of the Seminole Indian Tribe in Florida. He continues
to serve as the spiritual leader of the church, which in 2007 was recognized by and
serves the federally recognized Oglala Sioux Tribe of Pine Ridge as the Oklevueha
Lakota Sioux Nation Native American Church. The church is also recognized by the
Lakota Sioux Rosebud Tribe of South Dakota. In 2000, ONAC became affiliated with
the Huichol tribe, an indigenous people of Sonora, Mexico. The Huichol are a deeply
religious people that have a belief structure which encompasses every aspect of life and
includes ceremonies from pre-Colombian mythology that places special emphasis on the
deer, corn plant, and the peyote plant, a small, spineless, flowering cactus plant which is
used as a hallucinogen before and during religious ceremonies. For hundreds of years,
the Huichol have used a common form of hemp called mariguana or rosa maria
(Cannabis sativa) in their spiritual healing practices.
Part of the churchs religious rituals and ceremonies include Native American
medicine people. The integration into its religion of nature, natural health and the
medicine people is a core principal and part of the churchs belief system and

Ms. Jill Ravitch


Sonoma County District Attorney
January 19, 2016
Page Three

practices that have been part of American Native culture, religious practices and rituals
for hundreds of years. Along with peyote, cannabis and various other natural herbs and
plants are used as sacrament, in rituals and in the spiritual healing practices by church
members. In 2004, the Utah Supreme Court deemed Oklevueha a bona fide religion in
a criminal case brought by now disgraced former Utah state attorney general Mark
Shurtleff.
The branch in Sonoma County had numbers of sacramental cannabis plants
growing when it was raided by the Sheriffs Department. The Kenwood branch, along
with peyote and other sacramental plants used in church rituals, was established to
provide sacramental cannabis to members as well as to other Oklevueha branches. In
September, despite a letter faxed on an emergency basis to them prior to their decision
to destroy the churchs sacramental cannabis and arrest Mr. Garcia, deputies invaded
the churchs Kenwood branch.
We have seen in Butte County what happens when narcotics officers are given
virtually unbridled authority to conduct raids and confiscate marijuana. There, an
officer was caught sending marijuana supposedly confiscated under a local ordinance to
an associate in another state. There is a great deal of temptation for officers. These
officers not only had a copy of a letter sent by me prior to their decision to destroy
sacramental cannabis, but also were provided a copy of the 2004 Utah Supreme Court
decision I referred to above.
During the raid, the deputies told church members they had the authority under
Sonoma County Code to destroy the cannabis being grown based on a California
Supreme Court land use decision, City of Riverside v. Inland Empire Patients Health &
Wellness Center (2013) 56 Cal.4th 729, 156 Cal.Rptr. 3d 409, 300 P.3d 494 [Inland
Empire]. Here, RLUIPA applies not Inland Empire. RLUIPA protects new branches
of religions people might not be familiar with or that have different religious beliefs. For
hundreds of years, American Natives like the Huichol have used cannabis in their
religious rituals. For the Huichol, cannabis was smoked in corn husks as part of their
belief in the power of corn that is provided by the sacred Earth. Officers making
outrageous comments and assessing the validity of religious beliefs is inappropriate and
just plain discriminatory.

Ms. Jill Ravitch


Sonoma County District Attorney
January 19, 2016
Page Four

For months now, Saul Garcia, the church member arrested by deputies, has been
returning to court repeatedly. Hes returned so many times without charges being filed
by your office that the arraignment judge apparently told him he would not need to
needlessly keep coming back to court. Whether youve charged Mr. Garcia or not
perhaps it is the Countys plan to spend taxpayer money to challenge RLUIPA as well
as provisions of Californias constitution that are more protective than the federal Free
Exercise Clause I ask that you please make the decision not to charge him or dismiss
charges if you have indeed filed against him. We should be beyond the point of religious
persecution in the United States despite what appears to me to be a who has the bigger
gun mentality that goes on with state and local officials. After all, the United States
was in large part formed because of religious persecution in other countries. Would you
please either dismiss charges if filed or send me a formal refusal to charge letter?
Religious freedom is important. Almost as important is understanding by those in
government to stop interfering with important rights. Every year, more and more laws
burden citizens. People in government need to remember this is supposed to be a free
country not the country with more people in prison than any other on the planet. As
President Obama has alluded, marijuana is safer than alcohol. The Catholic Church
serves sacramental wine and is not being raided by Sonoma deputies. Prohibiting
sacramental marijuana from American Native religious members serves no purpose and
only ends up costing taxpayers substantial amounts of money.
Thank you and should you have any questions, please contact me at (949) 3821485.

Very truly yours,

Matthew S. Pappas
MSP:jm
CC:

Sonoma County Board of Supervisors