Monday, May 5, 2008

Rival Cult Watch #2: The Church of Universal Love & Music

Nestled in the Lauel Mountains of Western PA, the Church of Universal Love & Music is a controversial little congregation...

The CULM's origins go back some 20-odd years, but it really began to make an impact around the turn of the current decade.
According to published accounts,
the church filed for nonprofit status with the state in 2002.
As the case began to draw notice in 2003, CULM was featured on The Daily Show.
In September 2004, the owner of the church property applied for a special exception for religious use permit from the Fayette County Zoning Hearing Board.
Hearings were held in February 2005, and the permit was denied two months later. The opposition said there was no evidence of religious use happening at the property.
The controversy came to a head in the summer of '06:

From the July 5, 2006 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

William Pritts claims he founded his Church of Universal Love and Music in Bullskin, Fayette County, to "advance non-denominational religion through music."

County officials, however, refused to approve Mr. Pritts' application to use his 148-acre property for "religious gatherings." They believed he had no such purpose, and that his land was being used as a party site for daylong concerts and illicit drug use.

Mr. Pritts filed a federal lawsuit against the county, its zoning hearing board and individual members last week, claiming they violated his First and 14th Amendment rights to freedom of religion and association.

"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," the lawsuit says...

Neighbors didn't like the concerts that went on at the property, and that it had been established as a party site. The church's own minister testified that he observed illegal drug use there, Mr. Nurkiewicz said. And the county's zoning enforcement agent visited the site undercover and found several hundred people gathered there, paying $50 each, for a concert.

Officially, the board found that the church "failed to meet the burden of proof to establish approval of the request," and "did not meet the threshold for the proposed use in accordance with the definitions and words contained in the religious use statute 'in accordance with their customary meanings.' "

As for the Church's own website, the position is as follows:
"As its name implies, CULM's religious and spiritual focus is on universal love and music and is in large part mystical. It is the CULM's belief that no dogma is necessary to honor the Earth or our place in it..."

Of course, the controversy has led to a lot of otherwise-unobtainable publicity, including the hilarious bit on Comedy Central's The Daily Show.

Since the Church grounds are located just a few miles from my home, I have paid a few visits there, and I am currently seeking to work with CULM on some projects.

Some additional video on CULM can be found here at Google Video.

CULM's official MySpace page is here. The CULM MySpace Group is here.