PITTSBURGH – Church is out, at least temporarily, for a group that claims its jam band concerts are religious services.
U.S. District Judge Donetta Ambrose on Thursday found credible evidence of pervasive drug use in violation of a March settlement between the Church of Universal Love and Music and a southwestern Pennsylvania county. The church had agreed to not tolerate any drug law violations as part of the settlement.
William Pritts has been feuding for years with Fayette County about the jam band concerts held on his 147-acre (59-hectare) tract. The land, about 35 miles (56 kilometers) southeast of Pittsburgh, is zoned for farming.
Pritts founded the church and in 2006 sued the county claiming officials wrongly refused to give him a religious-use exception.
In the wake of an Aug. 1 raid, the county asked for a preliminary injunction to halt four more concerts scheduled for this summer. During the raid, police seized 76 bags of marijuana and 22 bags of hallucinogenic mushrooms along with more than 1,000 marijuana pipes, LSD and drug-laced snacks. Police arrested 22 people and have plans to charge eight more for drug or paraphernalia possession.
The judge granted the injunction Thursday and said she would determine whether to ban concerts entirely.
Ambrose noted that even the church's own witnesses supported the county's claims.
The church agreed to hire security to keep out drugs as part of the settlement. Jim Stephens, who heads the firm, testified he never saw drug use at the church — before adding he really doesn't know much about drugs, either.
"I'm from the old school. I don't deal drugs, I don't do drugs, I don't know what half of this stuff is," Stephens said. "Unless someone pointed it out to me, I wouldn't know what it is."
In the past, the county has questioned the religious basis for Pritts' concerts, noting that Pritts had charged admission and didn't initially claim to be a church, but now says he simply isn't running the church the way he agreed.