Friday, March 05, 2010

Court Issues Preliminary Injunction Barring Noise Prosecutions Against Church Bells

In St. Mark Roman Catholic Parish Phoenix v. City of Phoenix, (D AZ, March 3, 2010), an Arizona federal district court issued a preliminary injunction barring the City of Phoenix from enforcing its Noise Ordinance against sound generated in the course of religious expression. The lawsuit was brought by churches which had been prosecuted or feared prosecution under the ordinance because of the level of sound from their carillon bells. (See prior posting 1, 2). The challenged law prohibits "unreasonably loud, disturbing and unnecessary noise." Plaintiffs alleged that the law's restrictions are unconstitutionally vague and violate their free expression and free exercise rights, as well as their rights under Arizona's Free Exercise of Religion Act. In granting the preliminary injunction, the court, focusing on plaintiffs' free expression challenge, said:
The Court finds, for the purposes of preliminary injunction analysis, that the Noise
Ordinance is neither precise enough nor clear enough to be considered narrowly tailored. The Noise Ordinance does not contain an objective standard, such as a decibel level, under which loud, disturbing, and unnecessary sounds are targeted to the exclusion of sounds that are not loud, disturbing, and unnecessary. Also, the exemptions from the Noise Ordinance are a scattershot list, providing an exception for government vehicles, noncommercial public addresses, ice cream trucks (or other uses of hand-held devices playing "pleasing melodies"),and nighttime street work, but not considering any other types of sound to be exempt from coverage. The government's interest in preventing the disturbance of its citizens by noise could be achieved by other, less restrictive means.
Alliance Defense Fund issued a release announcing the decision.