Drew Zahn is a WND news editor who cut his journalist teeth as a member of the award-winning staff of Leadership, Christianity Today's professional journal for church leaders. A former pastor, he is the editor of seven books, including Movie-Based Illustrations for Preaching & Teaching, which sparked his ongoing love affair with film and his weekly WND column, "Popcorn and a (world)view."More ↓Less ↑
Bishop Rick Painter
Ding, dong, the bells are dead – at least on weekdays.
By court order, the electronic chimes that were rung each day by Cathedral of Christ the King Church in Phoenix, Ariz., are now confined to Sundays and special occasions, while the cathedral’s leader, Bishop Rick Painter, faces potential jail time for playing the daily melodies.
Responding to complaints that the electronic bells at the northern Phoenix church were rung too loud and too often, a municipal court gave Painter three years probation and a suspended 10-day jail sentence on charges of violating city noise ordinances.
The judge further ordered that the church – which had been ringing the bells daily on the hour from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. – may now only ring the bells on Sunday mornings and a court-ordered list of select religious holidays.
“It’s ridiculous to be sentenced to jail and probation for doing what churches have traditionally done throughout history,” said a statement from Erik Stanley, senior legal counsel with the Alliance Defense Fund, which has been retained by Painter. “Christians shouldn’t be punished for exercising their faith publicly.”
Separate investigations found the bells to be no louder on the street than a conversation or even local traffic, yet according to a report from KNXV-TV in Phoenix, neighbors testified the music disturbed them and made them feel like captives in their own homes.
The ADF statement claims the bells registered only 67 decibels at the nearest property line, about as loud as a conversation, which ranges from 60-70 decibels. An investigation by KNXV-TV found the bells, even in the church’s parking lot, were quieter than street traffic and failed to even register on a sound level meter in some parts of the neighborhood.
Nonetheless, the court opted to restrict when the bells can be played, ordered their level lowered to less than 60 decibels and convicted Bishop painter of on two counts of creating “an unreasonably loud, disturbing and unnecessary noise.”
The ADF pointed out the Phoenix noise ordinance does not include an exemption for religious worship, though it does provide an exemption for ice cream trucks, which are allowed to emit 70 decibels, measured at a distance of 50 feet.
“The church bells chime a short, ancient melody of praise to God,” commented Stanley. “It’s too bad that the value of the bells is lost on many in our society. In a busy neighborhood full of sirens, heavy traffic and loud motorcycles, these chimes are a sound of peace that do not exceed the noise level of an average conversation. Certainly, that should be at least as acceptable as the sound of an ice cream truck.”
Bishop Painter defended the bells as a constitutionally protected freedom of religion issue.
“We’re expressing our religion,” he told KNXV. “We glorify God by the bells.”
The Associated Press reports Painter plans to appeal the conviction, and the ADF states that it is examining legal options for best defending Painter’s rights.
As for the ringing of the bells, Dale Schowengerdt, legal counsel with ADF, told WND, “The church is waiting to see if the sentence will be stayed pending appeal. If it is not, they will not ring the bells except for the 2 minutes allowed on Sundays and other major holy days. Otherwise, the pastor would be in violation of his sentence and will spend 10 days in jail.”