Rock music church in Pennsylvania allowed concerts under court settlement

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Saturday, March 21, 2009

A Pennsylvania church that claims to worship through rock music may hold a limited number of concerts under a recent federal court settlement.

In the face of complaints from neighbors about noise and traffic problems, the Fayette County zoning department found in 2005 that the Church of Universal Love and Music was operating a music business instead of a church and must shut down.

William Pritts, founder of the Bullskin Township church, sued in 2006 under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, claiming the ruling infringed on his right to religious freedom.

A map of Bullskin Township of Fayette County, Pennsylvania.
Image: Dtbohrer.

A 12-page court settlement filed in a Pittsburgh federal court allows Pritts to hold six concerts on Friday-through-Sunday weekends, and six additional events on six other Saturdays. However, the music must end by 11:00 p.m. local time on Fridays and Saturdays and 9:00 p.m. on Sundays.

"The church is very much looking forward to a long future of providing services to the community," Gregory Koerner, Pritts' attorney, told The Herald-Standard.

Koerner said events are already planned for May and June 2009.

Under the settlement the church must keep sound from the concerts below the ambient sound level at the property line. The agreement also prohibits the illegal use of drugs and alcohol, and nudity is also not allowed. Pritts will have to also hire an independent security staff to oversee the safety at the concerts and he will not be allowed to have any more than 600 automobiles parked on or near the property during the events.

The Church of Universal Love and Music gained national attend when a segment about its dispute with the county was featured on Comedy Central's The Daily Show in 2003. During the segment, Pritts said, "God never said you can't party on."

The dispute started in 2001, when Pritts filed for a zoning exception to hold concerts at the Bullskin Township site. At the time, he was building an amphitheater stage, not a church, and neighbors and county officials grew concerned when Pritts said the concerts could attract up to 4,000 people, many of whom camp out overnight at the site. Concert attendance totals will have to be limited per the settlement, to no more than 1,500 people per event.

Fayette County officials said he only formed the church so he could charge admission under the guise of a "donation" after the county rejected his plans. Koerner insisted Pritts' religious convictions are sincere. The county has been ordered to pay Pritts legal fees which total US$75,000.