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Last year, Bishop Rick Painter, pastor of Cathedral of Christ the King in Phoenix, Arizona, was sentenced to jail for playing the sound of church bells.  The City of Phoenix said he violated a noise ordinance by ringing the church bells and sentenced him to ten days in jail (suspended) and three years of probation.  This case was so astounding that ADF stepped in to represent Bishop Painter and the church to protect their right to ring their church bells.  Little did we know that shortly after stepping in to represent Bishop Painter, the City of Phoenix sent two City Prosecutors and two Police Officers to St. Mark Roman Catholic Parish and threatened the church with prosecution if it did not alter its bell-ringing that had been going on for more than twenty years.

Here’s the kicker – the noise ordinance prohibited the bell sounds but allowed for sounds louder than the bells to go on unchallenged.  Sounds like ice cream trucks and public address systems.  Amazingly, the noise ordinance said it was okay for someone to play music from an ice cream truck at a louder volume and with more frequency than the church bells at these churches.

ADF filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of St. Mark, Cathedral of Christ the King, and First Christian Church in Phoenix who wanted to repair its bell tower but feared prosecution if it started ringing bells again.

A federal judge granted a temporary injunction prohibiting the City from enforcing its noise ordinance against the church bells.  And just recently, the federal court entered an order declaring that the City’s efforts to criminally prosecute churches and pastors for ringing church bells was unconstitutional.  The Court also issued a permanent injunction prohibiting the City from ever using its noise ordinance to censor “sounds generated in the course of religious expression.”

This is a phenomenal win for religious freedom!  No pastor should ever fear being hauled off to jail for ringing church bells – especially since churches have been ringing bells for centuries.

While it is true that this is one case, it is indicative of a growing trend of marginalizing churches and pastors.  The Church as a whole has lost its uniqueness in the eyes of an increasingly secular society and is treated today the same as any other business.  But it is cases like this that should stand as reminders that Churches are unique and special and that our Constitution protects the right of churches to minister and speak freely.

ADF continues to fight to protect the right of the Church to speak and minister freely.  Go to our website and sign up for more information about the Church Project.

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ADF Senior Legal Counsel - Church Project

ADF has been representing Bishop Rick Painter, pastor of Christ the King Church in Phoenix, Arizona.  The City of Phoenix convicted Bishop Painter for violating the City’s noise ordinance and sentenced him to 10 days in jail (suspended) and 3 years of probation.  The City claimed that the church bell noises were unnecessary and disturbing even though the noise ordinance allows louder noises than the church bells – things like ice cream trucks and loudspeakers.

And if convicting Bishop Painter for ringing church bells was not enough, the City of Phoenix threatened St. Mark Roman Catholic Parish with prosecution for ringing its church bells.  Shortly after Bishop Painter’s conviction, two Phoenix police officers and two City Prosecutors visited St. mark in response to a neighbor’s complaint.

ADF appealed Bishop Painter’s conviction and also filed a federal lawsuit against the City on behalf of a group of churches, including Christ the King Cathedral, St. Mark, and First Christian Church in Phoenix.  On March 4th, 2010 the federal court issued an injunction prohibiting the City from enforcing its noise ordinance against “sound generated in the course of religious expression.”

This is a great win.  No pastor should ever be sentenced to jail for ringing church bells.  Churches have been ringing church bells for centuries and, as far as we can tell, this is the first time a pastor has ever been sentenced to jail for ringing church bells.

The federal court recognized the absurdity of the City’s actions and recognized that the noise ordinance was unconstitutional.  Let the church bells ring!

Author

ADF Senior Legal Counsel - Church Project

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