A pastor from South Carolina was sentenced to jail for making a “joyful noise” during his church’s worship service. Johnnie Clark, pastor of Rehoboth United Assemblies Church, was made to serve two weeks behind bars for violating the city’s noise ordinance. The pastor was found guilty after a three-day trial with the Richland County jury.
According to reports, police were called to the church to address the noise over 50 times. Neighbors complained frequently about the sounds of musical equipment which permeated their premises, often late into the night. The noise was recorded and presented in court. The jury found the pastor guilty of unlawful sound amplification and Clark was sentenced to two weeks in jail.
Even though the church has paid multiple fines in the past the church’s First Lady and co-pastor said she is frustrated over her husband’s sentencing. In response she said:
I can’t believe it, jail time, for serving God, what’s next?
Thomas Borders, member of the church, said the punishment handed to the pastor is unfair because he and their church were having worship service in that location long before the disgruntled neighbors home was built. Border added:
It is up to the neighbors to say if it is irritating to them or a nuisance to them? Well you can get a weed eater and go outside and if someone complains nothing will be done, but when it comes to worshipping God it’s now a problem.
Neighbor Tim Ellis thought purchasing a home next to a church would be great because his neighbors would hardly be around. To his surprise things took quite a turn real fast and Ellis learned that he and the Pentecostal styled worshipping church, which was a mere 10.5 feet away, would be too close for comfort.
Drums, shouting, dancing and singing are hallmarks of the Pentecostal worship experience. Those “hallmarks” caused the walls of Ellis’ home to vibrate. Ellis said the unpredictable schedule of the church made it difficult for him and his family to entertain guests, hear their television or even go to sleep until the service was over.
Initially the couple tried to have a meeting with the pastor. Thinking he did not know how bad it was they invited Clark over so he could hear could witness the disruption for himself. He declined. The family was feeling forced out of their home. They would try to travel on the weekends to avoid it but then just got fed up.
The Ellis family felt their only legal recourse was to call the police. Law enforcement needed to enter the house while the disturbance was going on to determine if the noise level was unreasonable before they could issue a citation. Not only did the police issue a ticket, they instructed the family to call back whenever the church’s noise became excessive.
Several more tickets were issued with fines attached; some were issued as early as 8:00 a.m. and as late as 9:15 p.m. Ellis said it is a small church and sometimes they would have service without microphones and amplifiers and there would be no problems. Other times there would be around eight people inside screaming at the top of their lungs, according to Ellis.
In June, a judge banned the church from using any sound amplifying equipment between 8 o’clock at night until 8:00 the following morning. Clark said the church was there first and should not have to change the way they worship. The pastor’s wife said:
They are trying to dictate our worship. We have church at 7:30 p.m. so what does that mean, we only have 30 minutes to worship?
The mayor of the city, Steve Benjamin, said he wants the two sides to sit down with a professional mediator outside of court. He understands both sides and said Just Mediation has agreed to take on the case if both parties accept the offer. Benjamin added:
The church has a right to praise God as it has for 30 years while every property owner deserves the right to a peaceful enjoyment of his or her home, but how do you fix a situation when no one’s wrong?
In the interim, the pastor of a Columbia, South Carolina church has been sentenced to two weeks in prison following a series of complaints and citations. Pastor Johnnie Clark of Rehoboth United Assemblies Church in Columbia was found guilty by a Richland County jury of unlawful sound amplification this week. The pastor will serve his time at the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center.
By: Cherese Jackson (Virginia)