Does the Noise Act apply to churches?
A story carried on page 15 of the August 31 edition of the SEARCHLIGHT relating to the infringement on the rights of a resident of Choppins to freedom from disturbance, echoes the concerns of many other citizens and residents about what is a burgeoning problem. It is also most appropriate in the context of wider concerns about the levels of noise in our society and the blatant disregard for the Noise Act which is on our statute books.
Much of the focus on public noise levels has been devoted to entertainment noise, whether emanating from public transport vehicles, private vehicles or entertainment spots.
While the frequency and volume of these have all multiplied in recent years, they are nothing new. Indeed, even before our modern Noise Act came into being, there have been places of entertainment which were forced to either curtail their levels of activity or close entirely based on complaints from the public.
Over the years though, there has been one notable exception. It is the religious community for which objection to noise generated just did not seem to exist. Nearly one thousand years ago, European churches, their kings, princes and knights embarked on what were called Holy Crusades to defend the “Christian homeland” in the Middle East. It mattered not who was inconvenienced, who suffered and died in the process for Christianity was “right”. That absolute right was not to be questioned or disputed.
Over the years that absolute exception has continued and one dare not treat any perceived infringement on the part of the church, any act carried out “in the name of the Lord” as being akin to an infringement on the rights of others. Whatever the decibels generated, however long the crusades take, since it was all for a godly purpose, we are supposed to endure, and even welcome it.
Today one politician still has to bear the burden of “stoning a church” because of his expressed opposition to the disruption of the peace of his home. Many others suffer in silence because the society has unofficially made such an exception for noise generated in pursuance of spreading the Gospel.
Ironically though, the Church itself has become a victim. There is increasingly scant regard for the sanctity of the Church as the entertainment crowds blare music and revelry even while church services and funerals are in progress. We have all become victims. Just imagine for one second how it must feel to be a patient at our main hospital during the Carnival season with nightly activities literally raising the roof from the nearby Victoria Park!
It is a matter requiring tolerance and give-and-take on all sides. Churches, by virtue of being religious bodies do not, or should not, have any more right than any other organization or individual to disturb the peace and quiet. Yet one should also welcome initiatives by the Church to show concern about social issues in communities by attempting to engage. In such cases should there not be some level of dialogue beforehand, some level of sensitivity to the concerns of residents and an effort to keep the noise to a minimum? How should Planning Authorities handle such applications?
Clearly dialogue, appreciation of the rights of others and above all, the exercise of reasonable tolerance must be in the best interests of all.