DENVER (KDVR) — The City of Denver and the International Church of Cannabis are in a heated dispute over a sculpture in front of the church.
The city claims the sculpture is unsafe and hazardous to drivers and has ordered it to be removed, while the church said it’s an expression of their religious beliefs.
The sculpture was installed four months ago, and the congregation of “elevationists” believes the sculpture to be holy and part of the church’s practice, where members observe 42 seconds of silence and meditation.
“Our congregation now views this sculpture as holy and sacred. Elevationism has made a home in Denver for more than five years, and in one form or another, we have been spent fighting for our constitutional right to exist in peace, so we are just respectfully asking for the forces of bureaucracy to just let it be,” co-founder and director Steve Berke said.
City: Sculpture in public’s right of way
The city said it’s outside of the church’s property limit and is in the public’s right of way without proper permits. Berke said he doesn’t see how that could be.
“It is completely safe. It doesn’t interfere with the public’s right of way. You can walk around it, it doesn’t block the sidewalk. So the city’s argument that it’s an encroachment isn’t seeming like a valid one,” Berke said.
The irony in it all, Berke said, is the structure is named “public defender” and represents “the encroachment of the city upon the First Amendment. So this, for us, is not just a religious liberty issue, it’s also a constitutional issue.”
In an email thread with Berke regarding the order of removal, the city said the church could submit an encroachment permit, but removal or submitting concept plans would be a better move, because it will “prevent wasting your time and fee payment awaiting initial results of permit review, when it is already known as a not permittable location.”
“It seems to me like the very definition of prejudice. They are prejudging our permit to be rejected before we’ve even applied. It seems to be discriminatory,” Berke said.
Cannabis church’s permit application due Friday
The application deadline for the permit is on Friday. The hope is that the city will ultimately change its mind.
“Why wait four months and then issue an order of removal, and then tell me you’re going to reject the permit I haven’t even applied for? It just seems that it wasn’t done in a very graceful way, and I want to be compliant. I want to be a positive asset to my community. So let’s have some communication on how to do this the right way,” Berke said.
The church did get one permit approval through the city’s Public Arts Program.
“The description of the sculpture, designed by artist, Zack Knudson, conforms to our guidelines, and I am pleased to say we can designate your project as a one-of-a-kind work of art,” the program’s administrator said in the letter.
FOX31 did reach out to the city for further comment but has not heard back yet.