Neighborhood Complaints Silence Church Bells

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PHOENIX, Arizona - The sounds of church bells date all the way back to the middle ages. And today, thousands still chime in the U.S.
   
Yet it is nothing but noise to some people in Phoenix, Ariz.

Sam Jensen is one of several neighbors who complained about the bells at Christ the King Church. His yard backs up to the church's parking lot.

"I have dual pane windows in my home and you could hear it loud enough so it would wake you up in your sleep," he said.

"It was just unacceptable," he added. "Thirteen times a day, seven days a week, for the rest of our lives."

Ironically, Christ the King Church moved to the residential area, away from a commercial area, specifically to reach out to the neighborhood. Church workers distributed 1,000 fliers welcoming neighbors to services and highlighting its bells.

But the day after the bells began, some neighbors started to complain.

"There's been criticism," Bishop Rick Painter said. "People saying we're not loving our neighbors and we're a poor witness."

The sound actually comes from an electronic system played through a loudspeaker. Originally, the church played the bells every half hour, 14 hours a day, from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.
   
After the neighbors protested the church cut the bells back to once an hour.

"We've met with them, talked with them, made compromises," Painter said.

But the neighbors say the church didn't go far enough.

"We tried to work with them," Jensen said. "We would have said, 'Hey, play them on Sunday. Play them a couple times a day. But 13 times a day? You're playing them when you're not even there.'"

A city spokeswoman told CBN News that the issue is simply a conflict over local law.

"Anything that's loud," said Deborah Sedillo Dugan. "Unnecessary noise constitutes a violation of the noise ordinance."

But Painter's lawyers said it is much more.

"When the First Amendment is at risk and such a basic and fundamental expression of God's love and glory and joy is challenged and penalized criminally it's time for Christians to stand up," said Gary McCaleb of the religious rights group, the Alliance Defense Fund.

That is why Christ the King Church and two other Phoenix churches have filed a Federal lawsuit against the city, charging that its noise ordinance is unconstitutional.
  
So for now, the bells at Christ the King Church are silent. A Federal court will decide their fate.

"Bells aren't a religious freedom in my mind," Jensen said.

Bishop Painter said bells are a manner of speaking.

"It's a manner of telling a community there's a church here," he said. "There's a haven of rest here."

*Originally published October 13, 2009

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