Church of Cannabis fights to keep ritual ‘meditation’ sculpture, claims Denver violating 1st Amendment

The International Church of Cannabis — yes, there is an International Church of Cannabis — is accusing the city of Denver, Colorado, of violating its First Amendment right to freely practice its religion following a city order to remove an eleven-foot, bright pink sculpture titled “Public Defender” from in front of the church, on the corner of a busy intersection.

According to the church, founded in 2017 with members, known as “Elevationists,” the sculpture, which was donated to the organization by the artist who created it, is central to an important church ritual.

(Video: Fox News Digital)

Elevationists routinely gather around the statue for 42-second meditations in which they reflect on how to achieve “a better version of self,” International Church of Cannabis co-founder Steve Berke told Fox News.

“I hope the city of Denver recognizes our right to exist and our right to have this religious effigy, this representation of the freedom of religion that all Americans should have,” Berke said. “Yet the city of Denver is really encapsulating the perfect example of big government passing unnecessary laws that don’t protect anyone and infringing on our First Amendment rights.”

Though a city inspector did review the Public Defender in September, one day after it was installed, and didn’t raise any red flags, in February, the city gave the church 10 days to apply for a permit if they wanted the statue to stay in place.

“Ten days is not enough time to receive a land use survey and engineers study all the things that we need to apply for a permit,” Berke said. “So the city basically gave us a deadline that was impossible to meet.”

In an email sent later to Berke, the city admitted that even if the church had submitted a permit application, it would have been denied because “the sculpture as installed does not meet minimum placement, height, and vehicle sight line criteria of the Encroachment Rules & Regulations.”

And according to a Denver Department of Transportation and Infrastructure official who spoke to Fox News, neighbors of the church have complained that the Public Defender blocks their visibility at the corner.

But Berke argues the statue was a “gift” meant to support “religious liberty.”

“The sculpture was a gift from the artist because he wanted us to have something that defended our right to religious liberty, which we thought was amazing because we’ve been under attack for pretty much most of the time we’ve existed,” he said, adding that the fight for the Public Defender is a fight for religious freedom.

Not only that, the psychedelic church and its big pink statue bring a lot of tourist dollars to the city.

(Video: YouTube)

Trip Advisor lists the attraction, housed in a renovated 125-year-old former Lutheran church, as “#2 of 262 things to do in Denver.”

“Immerse yourself in a world of illumination during our world famous guided meditation/laser light show in Denver. Get swept away seven days a week as the vibrant experience is easy to fit into any schedule and perfect for all ages,” the travel site urges visitors. “After the show, be sure to check out the arcade, gallery, theater, art garden, and media room featuring over 10,000 video games on free play.”

“We’ve renovated a 125-year-old church that was an eyesore and made it gorgeous and a number one attraction as a tourist attraction in Denver,” Berke said.

Colorado, under a Democratic governor and two Democratic U.S. senators, became one of the first states in the nation to legalize recreational marijuana. In 2019, magic mushrooms were decriminalized in Denver, and the rest of the state followed suit in 2022.

“So you’d think liberal city, liberal government, they’d welcome this cool new religion that is welcoming and bringing local people to the neighborhood and stimulating the economy,” Berke said. “You’d think they’d love us, but they don’t.”

“We’re showing people that if you fight for your First Amendment rights, you are defending your American liberty,” he stated. “And that’s a really important thing, even in left-leaning cities and states.”



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Melissa Fine


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