Rastafarian church in Madison reopens after being raided

MADISON — A self-styled Rastafarian church in Madison that police raided after it dispensed marijuana that leaders described as a sacrament has reopened, but without the cannabis.

Jesse Schworck, 39, and Dylan Paul Bangert, 23, opened the Lion of Judah House of Rastafari in March. The Dane County Narcotics Task Force then raided the establishment in late May.

The Madison natives were subsequently charged with maintaining a drug trafficking place and possession with intent to distribute marijuana. Bangert also faces one count of delivery of marijuana, while Schworck faces three distribution counts. A criminal complaint states Schworck also faces misdemeanor battery and disorderly conduct charges emanating from an alleged dispute with a customer who he said took marijuana sacrament from the church without payment.

County Circuit Judge Jill Karofsky ruled Monday that Schworck and Bangert could return to the church, the Wisconsin State Journal reported.

Both men say that police and the city are encroaching on their right to practice their religion.

Karofsky dismissed the bail condition barring Schworck from being at the church, but said other conditions remain in place prohibiting Schworck from committing any new crimes or using or possessing any controlled substances, including marijuana.

Schworck's case will be scheduled for a trial. He officially entered not guilty pleas to charges and is next slated to appear in court on Aug. 9, when Karofsky will hear a motion for return of property seized by police, including a large sum of cash.

Bangert's case is set for a status conference on Thursday.

Madison police officials could not be reached for comment. The city is aware of the court ruling and is evaluating next steps, said Madison attorney Michael May.

In June, the owner of the building filed eviction proceedings against Schworck and Bangert. Court records show the eviction case is postponed until November as they await the pending resolution of a federal lawsuit the duo has filed against the city of Madison, the Police Department and numerous other entities and individuals.

"We took our lumps but we're still above water," Schworck said Wednesday at the building, where church members gathered and assisted with cleanup efforts. "Right now, we're just chilling and letting everyone know we're OK. We're still fighting the good fight."

The pair and supporters remain optimistic that they'll succeed in court and ultimately be able to resume previous activities.

"Our plan all along was to stay here," Schworck said.