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Church Bells Take Their Toll

Bishop Rick Painter has been convicted of disturbing the peace for ringing his church’s bells.

One man’s joyful noise is another’s aural pollution. Ask Bishop Rick Painter of the Cathedral of Christ the King in Phoenix. He has been convicted by the city on two counts of disturbing the peace for ringing his church’s bells.

“It’s upsetting, obviously, that something that started out as a civil complaint got picked up by the city and taken to court,” says Painter, 68. “Church bells were rung in this nation since before it was a nation.”

Painter and his congregation of roughly 100 worshipers moved to their present location in north Phoenix in 2007. The offending chimes—actually a 67-decibel digital recording played through four loudspeakers—started on Palm Sunday 2008.

Painter and a handful of irate neighbors have been at odds ever since. Following complaints, the bells were taken off a half-hour schedule and played once every hour from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Noise-absorbent foam was even placed in front of the speakers.

Still, police were eventually summoned and a report was filed. Painter was found guilty in June, and the bells now ring only for Sunday worship services. A religious liberties group, the Alliance Defense Fund, plans to appeal the conviction.

“Even ice cream trucks are louder than our bells,” Painter says. “The interesting thing is, the people who are closest to the bells are not complaining.”

Blair S. Walker, who frequently writes for the Bulletin’s In the News section, lives in Miami.

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