Federal court rules Phoenix churches can ring bells

Share |
Increase font size Decrease font size

A court in Arizona ruled on Tuesday that a noise ordinance banning churches in Phoenix from ringing their bells is unconstitutional. One pastor was sentenced to jail last year for violating the ordinance, which allowed an exception for ice cream trucks but not for churches.

St. Mark Roman Catholic Parish, First Christian Church, and Christ the King Liturgical Charismatic Church all challenged the ordinance in a lawsuit filed by attorneys from the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) in 2009.

Christ the King Church joined the lawsuit after its pastor, Bishop Rick Painter, was sentenced for ringing his church’s bells, despite making compromises to appease the few local residents who filed complaints. He was given a suspended sentence of 10 days in jail and three years of probation on June 3, 2009.

ADF reported on Tuesday that a federal judge ruled the city of Phoenix could not enforce its noise ordinance to prohibit “sound generated in the course of religious expression.”

“Churches shouldn’t be targeted and punished for ringing their bells as a public expression of faith that’s been done for centuries,” said Erik Stanley, ADF Senior Legal Counsel in response to the court decision.

“The federal court has made the right decision by declaring that the city’s noise ordinance violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments.”

Before Tuesday's ruling, a judge issued an order in 2009 restricting the chimes at Bishop Painter's church to no more than 60 decibels for two minutes on Sundays and specific religious holidays. According to ADF, the bells at Bishop Painter’s church normally chime every hour from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Their volume has been registered as emitting 67 decibels at the nearest property line. By comparison, a whisper is 30 decibels and a normal conversation runs from 60 to 70 decibels.

When the ordinance was in effect, ice cream trucks were allowed to emit sounds of up to 70 decibels at a distance of 50 feet.

After Bishop Painter's sentencing last year, city officials told St. Mark's Catholic Church that they were under consideration for a noise violation as well, although the church had been ringing its bells for 20 years.

First Christian Church joined St. Mark's and Christ the King in their lawsuit against the city after wanting to repair their bell tower but hesitating out of fear of criminal prosecution, said ADF.

Following today's court order, there are no longer any restrictions in Phoenix on churches ringing their bells.

Share |
Increase font size Decrease font size