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Should churches have to file a lawsuit to hold services?
A recent event in the state of Louisiana shows how far religious freedom has come under attack. The Constitution and Louisiana law is being violated by the actions of police not just by the enforcement but the methods used to impact religious services of the Vintage Church in Jefferson Parish in New Orleans. The first amendment to the Constitution has specific words about religious freedom. The amendment reads: “it prohibits the making of any law respecting an establishment of religion impeding the free exercise of religion, abridging the freedom of speech, infringing on the freedom of the press, interfering with the right to peaceably assemble or prohibiting the petitioning for a government redress of grievances. It was adopted on December 15, 1791, as one of the ten amendments that constitute the Bill of Rights.”
The Vintage Church in 2008 expanded to 3927 Rayne Street which is the site of the Highland Baptist Church. Recently the Vintage Church and Metairie merged and as a result the church in which services were to be held was not large enough to hold the increased size of the congregation. This resulted in church services being held under the cover of a tent on their parking lot. Under Jefferson Parish government law such events were required to get a petition to hold their services which was given. In one way I do not have a problem with the requirement to have a permit but the fact remains that the church services were being held on church property not public property. Why does a church need a permit to hold services on their own property? It is there property and they have the right to use it how they see fit as long as they do not violate the law. In this case no such violation exists. In fact conducting religious services as they did are supported not only by the Constitution but Louisiana Law.
The current issue causing the lawsuit involves a restriction on the level of noise a church service can produce. Vintage Church is a non-denominational entity. The issue of the noise level began in August when services began being held under a tent on their parking lot. From what the Parish government said there were complaints from neighbors about the noise. Several times the police responded to complaints of neighbors and informed them the church was fine and did not issue a citation and rightfully so the question to be asked is what changed?
Another restriction in addition to the noise issue was an order by the Sheriff’s Office that it could not set up for their service until 10 minutes before it was to begin. Again this is private property and this order has no basis in the Constitution and Louisiana Law. A councilwoman responded about the noise requirement by stating the church was being held to the same standard as anyone else with regards to the sound. This is in violation of the Jefferson Law according to reports that organizations that have a permit are exempt from the noise requirement.
Other restrictions were also place on church services in that the Pastor was told he could not use a microphone to conduct his service. This impedes his right to conduct religious services and is an impediment to the free exercise of religion granted under the Constitution. Another impediment was a restriction to disallow the use of electric guitars and drums during the service and is again a violation of freedom of religion.
Other acts of violating the Constitution and Louisiana Law titled “Preservation of Religious Freedom Act included such action as to effectively closing down church services for failure to comply with the noise level requirement. Issuing a summons against the church and fingerprinting the Pastor in front of his congregation is the last straw with regards to the rights of a church to conduct religious services on their own property regardless of whether it is in a building or under a tent.
Overall I highly respect individuals who serve their communities as police officers and those who serve their communities as council members. In this case Louisiana law was violated not to mention the Constitution. The actions of the police department along with a member of the Parish council show a lack of knowledge of applicable laws in dealing with the complaints of neighbors. This is not meant to be an indictment of all police officers in the parish or all council members. The individuals involved in the current situation apparently need additional training to understand the laws they are to enforce. Council members should also know the law and act accordingly when they receive complaints from citizens about organizations conducting events.
The lawsuit filed by the church will be in court asking for an injunction to prevent the police and parish council from invoking their restrictions. It is hoped that the court will protect the rights of the church to conduct their services as granted under Louisiana Law and the Constitution. It is time courts stand up for freedom to exercise religious beliefs whether it is an individual or a church in this case. No level of government has the right or authority to impede the free exercise of religion.
This could eventually be a landmark case against. The lawsuit should be held to be on solid ground and grant their request for an injunction. It should be a permanent injunction. If such is the case it will be a signal that police and council members anywhere can be taken to court when their actions violate the Constitution. The exercise of religion has been under attack with some decisions handed down in previous court cases. Though the court will need to make the decision in this instance it is a clear violation of religious rights under the Constitution and Louisiana Law.