Monday, September 07, 2009

Ring out the Bells!

It was nearly three years ago that some pusillanimous, black-hearted, soulless, mincing local politicians with microscopic sex organs muzzled a Catholic church's bells in Reston, Virginia on the pretext that they violated the county's idiotic noise ordinance. The atheists are pulling that stunt in other localities as well, even while okaying things like Muslim prayer calls over loudspeakers.

I haven't been able to find out any more about the Reston, Virginia affair. However, I am pleased to report that somebody is beating back the atheistic noise ordinance assault. In a spirit of true ecumenism, St. Mark Roman Catholic Parish, First Christian Church, and Christ the King Liturgical Charismatic Church, represented by attorneys from the Alliance Defense Fund, are suing the city of Phoenix, Arizona for criminalizing the ringing of church bells via an inane noise ordinance banning noises greater than 60 decibels. The complaint (which can be read here) alleges, among other things, that the city noise ordinance that is being used to silence the church bells is unconstitutional on its face; is unconstitutionally vague and overbroad; allows for subjective and/or arbitrary enforcement; is a content-based restriction on free speech; is not a neutral law of general applicability; and serves no compelling government interest.

The plaintiffs in this case were all sought to be silenced by the anti-bell Mafia. Whining from somebody living a block and a half away from St. Mark's led to a meeting between the parish priest, a parish employee and a lawyer for the diocese on one side, and representatives from the city prosecutor and city police. During the course of this meeting, the city prosecutors admitted to the vagueness of the noise ordinance under which the complaint was lodged. First Christian Church has held off repairing and bringing its carillon back into commission for fear of being prosecuted under the same noise ordinance.

And the city of Phoenix has given them good reason to fear. All this follows in the wake of the criminal prosecution of Bishop Rick Painter of Christ the King Church, who was actually brought up on charges for ringing his church bells. After being tried and found guilty of violating the noise ordinance, Bishop Painter was given a suspended ten-day jail sentence and three years' probation for ringing his church bells. By contrast, my average first-time DUI client is only on the probation hook for one year. Even more outrageous: the court took it upon itself to order the bishop not to ring his bells except on Sundays and a court-selected list of religious holidays. Where are the ACLU's First Amendment rampart-watchers on this?

Fortunately, we don't have to wait around for the ACLU to pull its head out of its collective nether region. Says ADF senior legal counsel Erik Stanley: “Churches shouldn’t be punished for exercising their faith publicly. 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.” Amen to that.

Fr. Z heads his commentary on this story up with the following:
The late Msgr. Richard Schuler loved church bells. The lofty bell tower of St. Agnes Church in St. Paul with its four bells, would ring the hours and half hours 24/7, as well as the Angelus at noon and 6 pm, summons bells before masses, a somber toll on 3 pm every Friday, as well as ringing for the Resurrection on Saturday evenings. The great bell, "Richard", would toll at the consecration on Sunday Masses, for funerals and all the bells would peal at the end of funerals and for weddings.

These bells functioned to remind the people of the neighborhood what day it was, when to go to church for Mass, what was going on in church, when to to to pray during the day … the echo of an era when the once heavily Catholic immigrant neighbors could walk to church. A reminder to us today that religion should be woven into all our daily activities. Our Catholic identity is 24/7.

If perhaps someone would call the rectory to complain about the bells… usually someone with a snoot full or simply bilious by nature… Msgr. Schuler would make the observation that, after decades of studying the question, he had come to the conclusion that if someone didn’t like church bells, it was because they had a bad conscience about something.
All you people out there who hate church bells and other reminders of Christianity: instead of trying to drag the rest of society down into your private hell, why don't you start paying attention to the message the God Who hasn't yet given up on you is trying to send you?