As tmatt reminded us the other day, this summer is the 40th anniversary of Woodstock, the music festival. The combination of music, drugs and fellowship can't be repeated -- or can it? Surfing the Pennsylvania media yesterday, I came across this classic from the Post-gazette.com, a reminder that for some of us, Woodstock never ended. Why did Chief U.S. District Judge Donetta W. Ambrose issue an injunction barring the Church of Universal Love and Music from holding festivals? Is the injunction an infringement upon religious liberty? Or is this solely about the discovery of huge amounts of illegal drugs on the property?
There's so much readers simply don't learn. Like -- what kind of a church is this? I came across an Associated Press story which says the church is "nondenominational Christian." If so, it isn't like any nondenominational Christian church I've ever seen. Take a look at the website. There, and not in the article, we find out that the police raided the "Funk Fest" held National Smiles Week (the week before Smokey the Bear's Birthday). Apparently some present at the raid are thinking about filing a lawsuit, seemingly alleging the use of fear tactics by the police -- another detail not included in the story.
In fact, almost no background information is provided by the reporter -- which certainly adds to the air of unintentional (?) hilarity. Here are a few paragraphs on the hearing that apparently impelled the judge to forbid, temporarily at least, music festivals on the property --
The hearing was held after lawyers for Fayette County filed a motion claiming that the church had violated a settlement agreement signed in March, in which owner Willie Pritts agreed that no illegal drug use would be permitted on his property.
On Aug. 1, agents with the Fayette County Drug Task Force raided the property and recovered 76 bags of marijuana, 22 bags of hallucinogenic mushrooms, LSD, hashish and nitrous oxide.
Twenty-two people were arrested, and there are eight additional cases expected to be filed.
Several witnesses from the church and its security company testified that they were either unaware of drug use on the property, or if they saw it, the users were expelled from the property.
"I have not witnessed illegal activity," Mr. Pritts said.
If he didn't see the drugs, didn't he smell them? Pritts, who owns the church (a triumph of private enterprise) also told the law that he wasn't aware vendors were selling pipes for marijuana.
Neither, apparently, was the owner of a security firm who worked for the congregation:
"I did not see any use of marijuana or drug paraphernalia," said James Stephens, who owns Sonrise Security. "I have never witnessed any illegal drug activity either in the open or covert."
Later, Mr. Stephens, who said he spent 16 years as a Pennsylvania state trooper, testified he would be unable to recognize a marijuana pipe.
"I don't know what half of this stuff is that they're talking about," he said.
The gentleman was a state trooper for 16 years and never saw a marijuana pipe? Maybe they don't smoke pot while driving in Western Pennsylvania.
The story is clearly larger than the hearing -- and it's very possible that the reporter was only asked to cover the hearing. This is one story in a series of stories. It's also a local article, probably written for a local audience. But the lack of details and context, not to mention some explanation of the religious liberty settlement that preceeded the legal action, leads to confusion about whether there is a genuine church-state issue here -- or lots of smoke, and not much fire. Lacking the context, all we can do is use our imaginations -- or go see for ourselves. Right now, I'm having more fun imagining.
For those who haven't seen them, that's a wooden marijuana pipe and some weed