All Nations church, silenced by neighbors’ complaints about ‘noise’
A Christian legal organization in the United Kingdom is reporting a skirmish victory in the latest war against Christians and their churches – the demand that they essentially be silent in their worship.
Cases have cropped up in recent months both in the U.K. as well as the United States in which governmental bodies have demanded that Christian groups essentially be silent – so that no one can hear their worship.
The Christian Legal Centre in the U.K. is reporting a victory in a battle, although the war remains.
The group said this week there has been a “last-minute out of court settlement” that will allow a 600-member church in London to continue its worship.
The Lambeth Council previously had issued a noise abatement notice to the All Nations Centre in Kennington which prevented the church from using any amplification for its worship music and its pastor’s preaching.
No allowance was made for any of the seniors in the congregation, some of whom have hearing difficulties, officials said.
The noise abatement order was issued last fall without warning or discussion, shortly after the church, which has been in the same location for more than 45 years, began to publicize its services in its own neighborhood.
Onn Sein Kon, case manager at the Christian Legal Centre, said the organization has noticed an increasing number of attacks on churches because someone can hear the worship.
“Regrettably, our case load is increasing with councils issuing noise abatement notices as a means of curtailing or closing churches in London,” Kon said. “Success in this case sends out a clear message that this method will not work. These churches are vibrant and growing and play a critical part in their communities.”
“What is really going on here is action by secularists to try and restrict Christian freedom and expression in this country. We will do all we can at the Christian Legal Centre to oppose such discrimination,” Kon said.
Andrea Williams, the director of the legal organization, said the real motivation behind such attacks is “hostility to the Christian message.”
“The law is being used as a pretext to harass and silence Christian viewpoints not approved by the state,” Williams said. “All Nations Church is simply trying to make Christianity relevant to 21st century Britain and it will be a great loss if the church, which is a great benefit to the community, has to curtail its activities and outreach programs.”
“The complaint has nothing to do with the noise and everything to do with our faith,” said the senior pastor, Abraham Sackey.
The church, with the help of the Christian Legal Centre, fought the order then said the damage already was done, even though the council suddenly withdrew the order.
“The church believes that the council’s withdrawal is an attempt to conceal what happened and which has been ongoing for some time, not only in Lambeth but nationally. The leaders of the church maintained from the very outset that the notice had nothing to do with noise,” Sackey said.
The legal organization said another church, Immanuel House of Worship in London, also has been “silenced” by the government because the sound of its worship drew a complaint from a single Muslim neighbor.
That’s despite the fact the neighbor is living in what used to be a church house adjacent to the church itself.
The church in Walthamstow was targeted by a noise abatement order even though local government officials had tested – and approved – its sound mitigation plan.
Ade Ajike, a church trustee, reported that after a visit from a government environmental health officer, the officer warned, “the church had to keep the noise down so as not to offend the Muslims living in the area.”
“He told us ‘this is a Muslim borough, you have to tread carefully,'” Ajike reported about the 2009 dispute.
The church has since reduced its Sunday worship from four hours to two hours and 30 minutes, of which music is played for only about 45 minutes. Midweek services were changed so that no music was used, and Sunday evening services were reduced to one a month.
The church further eliminated the use of percussion from its worship.
“Despite all our action, the occupant, who actually lives in what was the former manse to the church, would stand at the church’s main entrance door and shout his complaints and demand our pastor come out to speak to him during his sermon,” Ajike said.
That church’s case continues on appeal.
Williams said, “The charge of nuisance in law must involve proving there is a substantial interference with comfort. Surely, any reasonable person would think that singing for 40 minutes or so once or twice a week would not cross this threshold. Worship in a church is to be expected.
“The environmental health officers do not seem to have taken this fact into account. This is a vibrant Afro-Caribbean community of Christian believers whose worship of God is fundamental to the expression of their faith,” Williams said.
A battle over a church’s “noise” also developed just months ago in Phoenix, where three worship centers now have brought legal action against the city after one pastor was convicted of violating an ordinance.
WND reported at the time the lawsuit filed by the Alliance Defense Fund on behalf of St. Mark Roman Catholic Parish, First Christian Church and Christ the King Liturgical Charismatic Church.
Bishop Rick Painter, sentenced for allowing church bells to ring
The dispute focuses on the city ordinance that even city officials have conceded is vague, according to the lawsuit. Nevertheless, on the strength of neighbors’ complaints and the existing statute, one pastor already has been convicted and sentenced for violating the city ordinance with church bells. The complaint alleges others now also are threatened.
“Churches shouldn’t be punished for exercising their faith publicly,” said ADF Senior Legal Counsel Erik Stanley. “The law is unconstitutionally vague and has been abused to silence a form of worship that has peacefully sounded through the streets of our nation since its founding.
“No one should be sentenced to jail and probation for doing what churches have traditionally done throughout history, especially when the sound of the church’s bells does not exceed the noise level that the law allows for ice cream trucks,” he said.
The complaint notes that city officials wrote into the noise ordinance an exemption allowing ice cream trucks to play loud music but refused to include a similar exemption for churches.
Bishop Rick Painter of Christ the King Church was convicted and sentenced to three years probation and a 10-day suspended jail sentence for allowing his church’s electronic chimes to be heard. They now are restricted to Sundays and certain other specific occasions.
The Alliance Defense Fund earlier had battled in San Francisco over orders there that a team of Christians turn down their volume. The issue was the message from Christian evangelists who were preaching along the streets and in the parks of the city. They were cited for their noise even though authorities refused to address officials with another group that was using an 80-watt amplifier only 15 feet away from the Christians.