- The Washington Times - Friday, March 20, 2009

PITTSBURGH (AP) - A landowner who incorporated a non-denominational Christian church for people who love “jam band” music can hold a limited number of concerts each year under an agreement that settles his religious freedom lawsuit against a southwestern Pennsylvania county.

The 12-page settlement filed Friday in a federal court in Pittsburgh allows William Pritts and his Church of Universal Love and Music to hold concerts on six Friday-through-Sunday weekends each year, plus concerts on six other Saturdays. Pritts sued Fayette County in 2006 after officials refused to grant him a religious-use zoning exception and a judge banned the concerts.

“If Mr. Pritts had not been so stubborn, dogmatic, some might say crazy, his rights would not have been vindicated,” his attorney, Gregory Koerner, said Friday. Pritts did not immediately return a message relayed through Koerner.

The dispute drew national attention, in part, because of a segment on Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” in 2003. In it, Pritts stated “God never said you can’t party on” and criticized “bogarting” _ the refusal to share a marijuana joint during the concerts.

The parties agreed to settle before a jury could be picked last month to decide if Pritts’ beliefs were sincere or merely an effort to circumvent zoning rules.

The settlement restricts the parties from discussing the underlying litigation or details beyond those spelled out in the agreement. The county also agreed to pay Pritts and his attorneys $75,000

The county’s attorney, Marie Milie Jones, said the settlement is satisfactory and includes language that specifically denies the county violated Pritts’ religious rights. County commissioners did not immediately return calls for comment.

The dispute began in 2001 when Pritts filed for a zoning exception to hold concerts on 147 acres in Bullskin Township, about 35 miles southeast of Pittsburgh. He didn’t claim to head a church when he began building an amphitheater stage and holding concerts there.

Neighbors raised concerns about traffic, safety, noise, and alcohol consumption after Pritts told zoning officials the half-dozen concerts he planned yearly could each attract up to 4,000 people, many of whom would also camp at the site.

Officials said Pritts charged admission but called it a “donation” and formed the church only after the county rejected his plan.

Pritts’ attorneys say his church dates to 1985 even though it wasn’t incorporated until 2002. Koerner insisted Friday that Pritts is sincere.

“We’re making arrangements for volunteers to visit old-age homes and hospitals to get the church more involved in the community and dispel and doubts the zoning board and the neighbors have about (the church’s) good faith,” he said.

Pritts already plans a June 20 concert featuring the North Indiana All Stars and Umphrey’s McGee, Koerner said.

Under the agreement, illegal drugs and nudity are explicitly banned, camping and parking are limited to certain areas and music must stop by 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and 9 p.m. on Sundays. Pritts also must fence the concert area off with barbed wire, limit attendance to 1,500 for each event, and hire security guards.


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