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The Church of Universal Love and Music

 
 
 
 

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'Music Church Zoning fight heads to federal court'

By Paul Peirce and Chuck Brittain
TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Saturday, July 1, 2006

 

A Fayette County man trying to reopen his controversial "music church" in Bullskin Township has taken a five-year zoning fight to federal court.

William D. Pritts, founder of the Church of Universal Love and Music, alleged in a lawsuit filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh that Fayette County officials violated his constitutional right of religious freedom by shutting down his church last year.

The county denied his request for a special-exception permit to conduct nondenominational, interfaith services on his agricultural property in Bullskin Township.

Neighbors have complained to county officials since 2001 about the noise and traffic from daylong summer concerts that featured well-known musicians from the genres of funk, jazz and rock 'n' roll on Pritts' 147-acre property.
The county zoning board ruled that Pritts was not operating a church, but a music business. The board alleged that Pritts failed to establish his group's worship of a deity, or any religious doctrine, and therefore, the religious land-use act did not apply during the board's 2005 deliberation.

Zoning board chairman Mark Morrison stood by the board's position when contacted yesterday. "If you look at his (Pritts') mission statement, this is just to get around the county zoning laws. He couldn't get around them otherwise."

Morrison said the issue already has cost Fayette County too much in litigation fees. "Based on what I've seen at the (zoning) hearings and testimony before the board, I doubt that (CULM) is a real church. I don't ever recall testimony regarding regular services. I've never seen a church there. I've seen an ampitheater. In the winter, they don't do anything."

In August, Pritts agreed to a county court-arranged moratorium to refrain from scheduling concerts. Morrison said Pritts "has been under a cease and desist order (from the court) for years. Up to last year, he had ignored that order."

In his lawsuit, Pritts is seeking unspecified compensatory damages and attorneys' fees and costs from the county for violating his constitutional right to hold "religious events and assemblies."

"Currently, the Church of Universal Love and Music is a vibrant and diverse religious community with over 200 members experiencing growth rates of approximately 16 percent annually. (The church) engages in a multitude of religious activities and defendants' actions in violation of CULM's religious rights would completely prevent its continuing religious exercise," the 18-page lawsuit states.

"Defendants have chosen an overbroad prohibition of CULM from holding further events of any type, religious or commercial at the facility that places the maximum burden on CULM's religious exercise, despite the availability of several alternatives that do not burden the CULM's religious exercise," the complaint states.

Also in the lawsuit, Pritts states that church members participate regularly in worship services led by an ordained minister, the Rev. Larry Newel, and publishes a regular newsletter concerning "its mission of advancement of religion through music."

"As its name implies, CULM's religious and spiritual focus is on universal love and music and is in large part mystical. It is the CULM's belief that no dogma is necessary to honor the Earth or our place in it," the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit was filed by Pritts' attorneys, Gregory O. Koerner, of New York, and Jon Pushinsky, of Pittsburgh.

Pritts could be reached for comment yesterday.

 

 

 


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