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Lion of Judah House of Rastafari files federal lawsuit against city, police

MADISON, Wis. - Madison's first Rastafari cannabis sanctuary is claiming the city of Madison and the Madison Police Department violated their First Amendment rights in a federal lawsuit. 

Last month, Lion of Judah, House Of Rastafari said it found a legal loophole to bring marijuana to Madison. In just over a month's time, the church has grown to more than 6,000 members. Lion of Judah said the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act protects them and allows members to use marijuana as part of their religious practice.

The city of Madison disagrees. The city attorney's office sent a cease-and-desist letter on April 12, saying there is not documentation to support Lion of Judah's claims that they are in fact a church. The letter also said that even if Lion of Judah is a church, that does not change the fact that marijuana is illegal in Wisconsin. According to the letter, Madison police confiscated marijuana and various forms of drug paraphernalia from the establishment on Mifflin Street. 

Lion of Judah's Jesse Schworck and Dylan Bangert say these actions are in violation of their religious freedom. The two filed a federal lawsuit on April 18 claiming the letter and confiscation go against their First Amendment rights. 

"MPD entered the church unlawfully and took and moved without consent, the Church's ensacrament (cannabis), interfering with and burdening the church members' right to liberty and to worship Almighty God with their/our god given sacrament kaneh-bosm (cannabis)," the complaint says. 

Ten days after Schworck and Bangert filed the lawsuit, they submitted a motion for an emergency injunction against the city and police. The judge dismissed this order. They filed another one six days later with an amended complaint.

On Facebook Wednesday, Lion of Judah posted part of the amended complaint and said the city has no authority over the Rastafari church and described the city's actions as "threatening and harassing." 

News 3 Now reached out to Assistant City Attorney Jennifer Zilavy for comment about the lawsuit, but she did not immediately respond. 

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