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Because There Is No Other Crime Here…

We have time to charge and convict people of things like this. Basically, Bishop Rick Painter of Phoenix’s Cathedral of Christ the King was convicted of a criminal noise violation for ringing the bells at his church. Here is more information about the case, with a video. Here is the judgment and sentence order, and here is a press release from Alliance Defense Fund, the attorneys he’s retained for his appeal. If you want to check out the church’s website and listen to what may be the bells that got him in trouble, click here.

The law he was convicted of breaking was section 23-12 of the Phoenix City Code, “Creation of unreasonably loud and disturbing noises prohibited.” It provides that “[s]ubject to the provisions of this article the creating of any unreasonably loud, disturbing and unnecessary noise within the limits of the City is hereby prohibited.” Section 23-11(A) in the same article, “Nuisances,” explains that “[a]nything which is obnoxious to health, or is indecent, or is offensive to the senses, or is an obstruction to the free use of property so as to interfere with the comfortable enjoyment of life or property by any considerable number of persons, or unlawfully obstructs any public street, alley, sidewalk or highway is hereby declared a nuisance and may be abated by order of the City Court. Every person who commits or maintains a nuisance shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.”

The whole thing seems outrageous to me. I’d expect that what the bishop did would at most get him a letter from the homeowners’ association. I doubt there was some kind of prior order, as he wasn’t charged with violating one. I also wonder how many warnings he received, but more than anything, I’m confused by the reaction the case has gotten. Considering the facts of the case, I don’t understand why people aren’t making a bigger deal out of this.

Why aren’t local religious leaders up in arms? Hell, why aren’t national religious leaders up in arms? Is it because he isn’t affiliated with your typical Baptist, Methodist, or Catholic church? Maybe no one here cares because other Phoenix churches don’t have bells. Maybe people don’t like the fact he uses prerecorded bells instead of the real deal.

Also, why aren’t Christian-values politicians complaining about this? Has our collective desire to have quiet little cookie-cutter neighborhoods finally triumphed over our supposed love of religious freedom?

It’s inconceivable to me that something as common and traditional as church bells could be considered a criminal nuisance. It even sounds like what he was doing was tasteful. In one video, some of the neighbors said they liked the bells. I can’t think of many class one misdemeanors where some of the victims have said they enjoyed and even looked forward to the crime. I also can’t think of many instances where I’ve seen someone convicted of a non-DUI first-time misdemeanor offense get a deferred jail sentence and a full three years of probation. That’s the maximum permissible term for the class of offense. It’s also twice as much as DMX got in his felony case involving aggravated assault on an officer. The court must have really wanted to make an example of poor Bishop Painter.

I find the court’s hand-written order to be especially problematic. There are plenty more Christian holidays than just Ash Wednesday, Palm Sunday, Good Friday, Easter Sunday and Christmas Day. A city court judge shouldn’t be telling a church which of its holy days are suitable for bell-ringing. The court also shouldn’t be telling a church when it’s appropriate to observe its traditions. Bell-ringing is probably appropriate more often than just every Sunday from 8:00 a.m. and 12:00 p.m. Also, how did the court come up with the two-minute rule? Where did it get the 60-decibel limit?

As some articles mention, section 23-15 of the City Code provides exemptions for city vehicles, excavations or repairs by the City or State at night, the use of amplifiers or loudspeakers for noncommercial public addresses, and ice cream trucks. Specifically, the law states as follows:

None of the terms or prohibitions of sections 23-12 through 23-17 shall apply to or be enforced against:
(a) Any vehicle of the City while engaged upon necessary public business.
(b) Excavations or repairs of bridges, streets or highways by or on behalf of the City or the State, at night, when the public welfare and convenience renders it impossible to perform such work during the day.
(c) The reasonable use of amplifiers or loudspeakers in the course of public addresses which are noncommercial in character, and which amplifiers or loudspeakers are not used in connection with any moving vehicle.
(d) The use of a hand-operated device producing not in excess of seventy decibels of sound, “C” scale, measured a distance of fifty feet from the instrument emanating sound from bicycles, pushcarts, or other vehicles, or from vehicles in connection with the sale or display of merchandise; provided, that such devices or musical systems:
(1) Shall be operated only while the bicycle, pushcart or vehicle is in motion;
(2) Shall play only pleasing melodies; and
(3) Shall not be played between the hours of 1:00 p.m. and 3:00 p.m., and between the hours of 9:00 p.m. and 10:00 a.m.

I was amused by the “pleasing melodies” part, but that’s another post entirely (I’m fairly sure that an ice cream truck playing Penderecki’s Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima would be illegal, but I’m on the fence about whether the court would find the melodies in Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht pleasing). What I wondered after reading the statute was why the judge set more restrictive times and a lower decibel level than those permitted for ice cream trucks. Was that intended to be an extra little jab? Was the court letting the church know that it respected the church’s religious traditions less than it respected the tunes played by the neighborhood ice cream truck?

I wish I had more information about what happened, but from what I’ve read, it looks like this poor guy’s rights have been trampled in all kinds of different ways. I hope his attorney made a good record at trial and that Alliance Defense Fund writes a strong appeal. In the meantime, however, at least I’ll sleep well knowing Arizona authorities have solved all the serious crimes and can focus on things like this.

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