OFFICIALS IN JEFFERSON PARISH COME TO CHURCH, FINGERPRINT PASTOR, AND ISSUE CRIMINAL SUMMONS AGAINST HIM FOR CHURCH BEING “TOO LOUD” AT CHRISTMASTIME
At Issue: The violation of the religious liberty rights of the church
Case Status: Ongoing
Liberty Institute represents Vintage Church in a New Orleans suburb. After a disgruntled neighbor complained that the church’s tent services were “too loud,” Jefferson Parish officials issued a criminal summons for breaking a noise level of 60 dB—which is the noise equivalent of a running dishwasher or a conversation in a restaurant. The parish’s ordinances place sound limits on churches but not on power tools, construction, or demolition noise. Liberty Institute filed a lawsuit against Jefferson Parish and requested a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) on December 10, 2015 to prevent Jefferson Parish from enforcing their noise ordinance in such a discriminatory manner.
Meet Vintage Church
Vintage Church is a nondenominational church with a mission of serving the City of New Orleans. The church’s sanctuary is undergoing construction to accommodate church growth. In the meantime, members are meeting in a tent on the church property on Sunday mornings.
Since the church moved to the tent, a disgruntled neighbor has complained that the outdoor services were “too loud.” The government insists that the church’s noise levels must not exceed 60 dB—the equivalent of “typical conversation, dishwasher, clothes dryer” (American Speech-Language Hearing Association). While Jefferson Parish places limits on church sounds, other noises like power tools, demolition sounds, and construction sounds are not so restricted.
Vintage Church hired a sound engineer to ensure that the volume of the church service was not too loud outside of the tent. The church even went so far as to attempt to have a worship service with no sound amplification—not even letting their pastor use a microphone. Nevertheless, the parish has issued a summons against Vintage Church Executive Pastor Matthew Brichetto. The summons constitutes a non-custodial arrest, where the pastor is considered under arrest, but is not taken into custody. Pastor Matthew Brichetto is scheduled to appear before a Louisiana court on January 11, 2016.
Liberty Institute attorneys say the government’s demands are in violation of The Louisiana Preservation of Religious Freedom Act (LPRA), which states:
Government shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion, even if the burden results from a facially neutral rule or a rule of general applicability, unless it demonstrates that application of the burden to the person is both: (1) In furtherance of a compelling governmental interest. (2) The least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.
“The government’s demand that the services cannot exceed the noise level of a conversation is ridiculous,” said Liberty Institute Senior Counsel Justin Butterfield. “Power tools and demolition noises are permissible but a relatively quiet church service is prohibited. These demands are preventing Vintage Church from holding their worship services and from having their planned Christmas program during Advent. Furthermore, these demands violate the Louisiana Preservation of Religious Freedom Act. This is illegal and must stop.”
On December 10, 2015, Liberty Institute and attorney Roy Bowes filed a lawsuit against Jefferson Parish, making the argument that:
- The government’s actions have placed a substantial burden on Vintage Church’s exercise of religion, without a compelling government interest.
- Issuing criminal sanctions against Vintage Church while permitting much louder sounds from lawn mowers and jackhammers is unwarranted hostility.
- Both of these actions are a violation of the Louisiana Preservation of Religious Freedom Act and the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, rendering the government’s actions illegal.
Liberty Institute also requested a preliminary injunction that would prevent Jefferson Parish from discriminatorily enforcing the noise ordinance against the church while the case progresses, but Jefferson Parish’s 24th Judicial District Court denied the injunction. Liberty Institute appealed that denial on February 5, 2016 to the Louisiana’s Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal.
Press Release - 2/5/15 - link
Lawsuit against Jefferson Parish - 12/10/15 – link
Appeal in Vintage Church case to Louisiana’s Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal – 2/5/16 - Link
Exhibits to Appeal – 2/5/16 - Link
Please read and forward Liberty Institute’s online Religious Liberty Protection Kit for Churches to know the rights of people of faith.
Please sign this Letter of Support addressed to the members of Vintage Church, and take a stand to protect the right of all Americans to worship freely, in public, and in peace.
Dear Vintage Church Members,
I was disturbed to learn of the actions of officials in Jefferson Parish, LA against your church, including unreasonable and inconsistent demands, repeated intimidation tactics, and a criminal summons.
I support the right of all Americans to be able to exercise their religious beliefs freely—including the right to hold church services without substantial burden from the government, as mandated by laws like the Louisiana Preservation of Religious Freedom Act, federal law's Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) and the U.S. Constitution.
Thank you for your ministry to the New Orleans metropolitan area—and congratulations on your rapid growth! Our nation needs more bold influencers like the members of your church to help change and shape our communities.
Continue to stand strong for your beliefs and your freedom! You have my support as this lawsuit progresses.