Rastafarian church files lawsuit against Madison City for cracking down on its marijuana smoking ritual: 'A foolish dog barks at a flying bird'
A spokesperson for the Lion of Judah House of Rastafari church told MEAWW that the city is "burdening free expression of religion"
A Madison-based Rastafarian church has recently come under fire for utilizing a religion-based loophole that allows them to serve marijuana to members who make a small donation. However, despite the seemingly fool-proof measures taken by the church and its members, local officials are not letting this slide without a fight.
City officials are upset with the Lion of Judah House of Rastafari church and their members for the free distribution of cannabis, since the plant isn’t legal in the state of Wisconsin yet.
Hence, they have given two men from the church an ultimatum: stop distributing the plant or face legal repercussions for the same.
Multiple reports suggest that the church’s operators, founder Jesse R. Schworck and Dylan Paul Bangert, have been both smoking and distributing cannabis to their followers, citing the parish’s Rastafarian roots. The religious institution allows the use of cannabis for ritualistic use.
However, Madison city officials are convinced that the church's founding members, Schworck and Bangert, are using their religious beliefs as grounds for their otherwise illicit use of the substance.
According to the church’s official website, the church remains “Wisconsin’s first & only lawful Rastafari cannabis sanctuary.”
Police authorities have made various visits to the establishment, confiscating jars of cannabis and corresponding paraphernalia in the process. They also delivered the building’s landlord a formal notice of public nuisance, back on April 10.
However, now that locals have reached an impasse, officials slapped a cease and desist letter to the 10,000-member church, arguing that religious beliefs do not warrant an exemption from both federal and state law.
“You have established a church and are operating this ‘church’ out of 555 W. Mifflin Street,” the letter states. “You believe that because you have established this ‘church’ you are entitled to sell cannabis and marijuana-related products, … This letter is to put you on official notice that selling marijuana, cannabis and THC edibles is not legal either in the City of Madison or in the State of Wisconsin." It continued, "Even if you are a legitimate ‘church’, possessing and selling a Schedule 1 Controlled Substance, which these items are, is not legal under Wisconsin State Statute. You must immediately cease and desist from continuing to possess and sell, or offering to sell, these items.”
However, a spokesperson from the church, speaking exclusively to MEA WorldWide (MEAWW), said, "A foolish dog barks at a flying bird," implying that the city officials have no business trying to stop the religious institution from following their religious beliefs.
The spokesperson further mentioned, "We have filed and served them with an injunction, requesting a stop to harassing, intimidating and burdening free expression of religion. We filed [the lawsuit] in Federal Court, against the city of Madison as well as Madison police."
When asked if there could be an ulterior motive behind the local residents' collective animosity towards the Church and its workings, the Church official replied, "Motives? Greed, ignorance, and jealousy," are actually the reason that Madison City is asking for a peaceful religious organization to shut its doors on members of their congregation.
Nevertheless, the case is still under investigation, and no arrests have been made up until this point, and the organization is yet to close down.
Meanwhile, Assistant City Attorney Jennifer Zilavy, who is representing Madison City, was reported as saying that the city will be judicious in its handling of the case.