Church Stops Smokin’

The Church of Universal Love and Music in Mount Pleasant, Pa., may have avoided a zoning violation but it hasn’t avoided the cops.

A recent religious gathering / music festival at the church resulted in 21 arrests and seizures of large amounts of drugs and paraphernalia.

Police executed a search warrant Aug. 1 during the second day of a three-day “Funk Fest,” according to Assistant District Attorney Mark Brooks, coordinator of the Fayette County Drug Task Force. Authorities asked for a warrant after officers working undercover at previous events witnessed drug use and the selling of drug paraphernalia, Brooks said.

“They made it sound like Woodstock on steroids,” Brooks said of the church events, adding that he was skeptical at first. “But within minutes of getting out of the undercover vehicle [police] observed people walking around smoking marijuana in the open. And we never asked to purchase drugs; people came up to us offering drugs … all we did was stand there like patrons listening to the music.”

Large amounts of marijuana, LSD and hallucinogenic mushrooms were collected, and charges range from misdemeanor drug possession to felony possession with intent to deliver. More arrests are possible, he said.

Artists included the 420 Funk Mob, Freekbass and Jazzam.

The Church Of Universal Love And Music and founder William Pritts were embroiled in a years-long federal case with Fayette County, resulting in a settlement in Pritts’ favor.

Pritts filed a $1 million suit against the county in 2006 claiming religious discrimination after being told to pull the plug on shows at his 147-acre property outside Pittsburgh in 2005.

He applied for permits to build a stage and host concerts on the land in 2001, but Fayette County banned the events soon after, citing zoning violations. Officials alleged Pritts’ operation was a sham as he hadn’t claimed to run a church until after his permits were rejected by the county.

The county reportedly paid Pritts and his attorneys $75,000 in the settlement, which included language that denied Fayette County violated the church founder’s religious rights.

The agreement also stipulated Pritts needed to fence off the concert area, limit attendance to 1,500, hire security for the events and designate areas for camping and parking.

Illegal drugs and nudity were banned and music was to be stopped by 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and 9 p.m. on Sundays.