Protesters accuse Rastafari church of racist, homophobic conduct
MADISON, Wis. — About 20 protesters gathered outside Lion of Judah House of Rastafari on Wednesday to raise awareness of what they say is racist, homophobic and anti-feminist conduct by the organization.
The Rastafarian church sells cannabis as a sacrament, which they say is legal through a a religious exemption. While the legality of the organization is still under question, the church continues to grow. They estimate that more than 20,000 people have become members.
Community members have raised concerns about social media posts from the church containing memes denegrating feminism and complaining of heterophobia. Some of the posts have been removed.
Jesse Schworck co-founder of Lion of Judah House of Rastafari, said that despite the posts, the church is a place of togetherness.
“It’s all love and unity here. We treat people with respect, according to how they present themselves and treat us,” he said.
Community advocate Dana Pellebon and the protesters disagree. She was specifically concerned with the appropriation of Rastafarianism by the white men who founded the Lion of Judah.
“Rasafari is a religion meant for the empowerment of black people, so I wanted to know why it is they were using my culture to appropriate the ability to sell an illegal substance,” Pellebon said.
It was these concerns that Pellebon brought to the establishment earlier this month. A video she posted to Facebook shows her entering the House of Rastafari and asking for its founders. She then asks about cultural appropriation.
The interaction becomes heated as staff, patrons and Pellebon get into an argument. She says she was then forcefully escorted from the building. In the video, a man can be heard calling Pellebon a neanderthal.
Despite the cultural connotations of that term, Schworck explains the comment as a matter of science.
“She’s obviously a mixed-race woman, and science would tell you that anybody who is not a sub-Saharan African has some percentage, some amount of neanderthal. She’s even part neanderthal herself,” he said.
Pellebon is not mixed-race.
She said the incident confirmed her suspicions about the organization. Now, she is advocating for members of the church to consider whether having the ability to buy cannabis is worth supporting the establishment.
“Stop. Stop coming here. We as a people decide whether or not they stay open,” she said.
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