Judge rules against Madison Rastafarian church founders in eviction case

A judge ruled Wednesday to evict the so-called Rastafarian church from its downtown Madison location.

Judge Stephen Ehlke ruled against Jesse Schwork and Dylan Bangert, who founded the self-styled church, in the Dane County eviction case.

“People certainly disagree about whether marijuana should be legal, illegal or decriminalized, but no one reasonably argues that the state does not have a compelling interest in deciding what is, and what is not, a controlled substance,” Ehlke said. “Decisions regarding marijuana and how it is classified are for the … legislative and or administrative bodies, not this court.”

Schwork and Bangert opened the Lion of Judah House of Rastafari in March. The city of Madison sent the Rastafarian church a cease-and-desist letter in April. The Dane County Narcotics Task Force then raided the establishment at at 555 West Mifflin Street in late May. They were subsequently charged with maintaining a drug trafficking place and possession with intent to distribute marijuana. The self-styled church reopened in July.

Schwork and Bangert argue they should be allowed to have those drugs based on their religion. Bangert is also facing one count of delivery of marijuana, while Schworck faces three distribution counts.

Schwork and Bangert rent the building for their church. The owner of the building, Charanjeet Kaur, had sought the eviction in June because of drug activity. During a hearing in the eviction case Oct. 4, the owner said the establishment is a public nuisance, and the Madison building inspector said the tenants have not obtained necessary permits to operate as a church.

After Ehlke granted the eviction, Schwork and Bangert’s attorney Anthony Delyea asked the court to reconsider holding the case open until the criminal charges or federal case were decided.

Ehlke noted that the building owner had been waiting much longer than normal for a decision on the eviction action, and denied Delyea’s request.

“I think the law is very clear. I don’t think there’s a lot of room for argument here, quite frankly,” Ehlke said. “In my opinion, this question of whether the free-exercise clause allows this to occur, I don’t think, in my judgment, is a close call, actually.”

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