A joyful noise could result in sizable fines

Tuesday, October 20, 2015
 | 
Charlie Butts (OneNewsNow.com)

music staffBecause one – just one – of its neighbors complained, a black church in California now faces possible fines for choir practice.

For decades the Gospel Choir at Pleasant Grove Baptist Church in Oakland has been holding evening choir practice, shutting down no later than 9:00 p.m. However, Becket Fund attorney Daniel Blomberg tells OneNewsNow church officials recently received a cease-and-desist order threatening fines of $500 per occurrence for singing too loudly.

"[The city is] doing it in a really inappropriate way," states Blomberg. "Not only is it wrong to be singling out and discriminating against worship services – everybody knows how noisy cities are – but it's wrong to do it like this: where the city comes in and threatens fines and threatens to punish the church with huge, accumulating penalties unless the church meets some vague definition that the city has set out there."

So who is lodging the complaint?

"The city says that there's a single neighbor that has complained," the attorney responds. "But the city [essentially] is saying: We're going to enforce the heckler's veto. We're going to let one person complain about what's been going on for 65 years and let that person be the justification, the excuse for us to go out and shut down this choir practice."

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty has filed a Public Records Act request to make sure the city isn't unfairly targeting the church. The firm also is calling on Oakland to withdraw its threat and respect the rights of the church.

"This kind of government overreach is precisely why we need strong religious liberty protections for minority groups," Blomberg concludes.

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