PITTSBURGH – A man who says that rock, funk and jazz concerts held on his property are religious services has taken his case to federal court, claiming that county zoning officials violated his constitutional religious freedoms.
William Pritts says the concerts are an integral part of his Church of Universal Love and Music. He has been battling Fayette County’s zoning board over the concerts he began holding in 2002 on his 147-acre spread in Bullskin Township, about 35 miles southeast of Pittsburgh.
In 2004, the state Commonwealth Court ruled that the county could fine Pritts for holding the concerts in violation of county zoning rules.
Last year, a county judge crafted a compromise that let Pritts hold two concerts in defiance of the 2004 ruling. But the judge also fined Pritts $2,500 for holding two other concerts and issued a moratorium on future concerts, which Pritts has since followed.
Pritts filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh on Friday in which he said that the zoning board is violating his freedoms of religion and association by denying a special-use permit for the concerts.
"A core belief of the Church of Universal Love and Music is that religious inspiration and community are advanced by the celebration of live music," Pritts said in the lawsuit.
County officials counter that Pritts never claimed to have a church until after they rejected his application for a permit to operate as a commercial recreation facility years ago.
Church use is permitted on Pritts’ land, but the zoning officials rejected Pritts’ application saying his activities were not those of a church or religious organization.
The concerts were held up to eight times each summer and some featured nationally known acts like funk star George Clinton. Pritts charged admission to hundreds of people who attended some of the multi-day events, though he said church members or other sponsors picked up the bill at some later concerts.
Neighbors complained of noise and traffic and officials worried about illegal drug use among concert-goers.
While it is apparent that this guy is gaming the system seeking evidence of dogma in modern Church will affect the zoning of lots of liberal churches.