Federal court says church bells ARE constitutional

by Eleanor Goldberg
Religion News Service

WASHINGTON (RNS) A federal court on Monday (April 19) ruled an ordinance in Phoenix, Ariz., trying to limit the sound of church bells is an unconstitutional impingement on religious expression.

In 2007, one day after Christ the King Cathedral moved two miles from its former location to a space near a fire station, neighbors complained the church’s electronic bells — rung every hour, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. — violated the city’s noise ordinance.

The ordinance, which prohibits “any unusual or disturbing” sound, also allows ice cream trucks to ring at 70 decibels. The church’s bells rang at 67 decibels.

“This is almost unheard of in American law,” said Gary McCaleb, an attorney with the conservative Alliance Defense Fund legal firm, who worked on the case.

Sgt. Tommy Thompson of the Phoenix Police Department agreed that the complaint was fairly “unusual,” but said the hourly ringing of the bells made Christ the King perhaps a bit different from other churches.

“We value the First Amendment,” Thompson said Wednesday. “But then we have the city ordinance. We were stuck in the middle.”

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