Church of Cannabis claims religious rights in city dispute to remove sculpture

February 17, 2023 · Fox 31

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.

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.”East High students raising money to visit HBCUs

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. (Full Story)

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