Choir, Church Choir, Light

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Officials in Oakland, California, have reportedly threatened an African American church with the possibility of $500 per day in fines after a neighbor complained that the church choir is making too much evening noise.

Now, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a religious liberty legal firm, is stepping in and filing a Public Records Act request in an effort to ensure that government officials aren’t unfairly targeting Pleasant Grove Baptist Church, according to a press release.

The Becket Fund is calling on officials to withdraw the threat and “proceed in a manner that respects the rights of the church, ” framing the prospect of $500 in fines per day as a punishment for the gospel choir being “too joyful.”

It does appear as though city officials have no plans of instituting a fine at this juncture, calling the letter a warning of sorts.

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“Don’t the enforcement bureaucrats in Oakland have better things to do than to sic the police on a church choir?” Becket Fund attorney Daniel Blomberg rhetorically asked in a statement. “This church contributes to a community that is already suffering enough. This kind of government overreach is precisely why we need strong religious liberty protections for minority groups.”

Pastor Thomas A. Harris III told the outlet that he received a letter from Oakland officials on August 31, decrying noise from organs, drums and singing, and claiming that it collectively violates city law. A fine of $3, 529 could be possible, with an additional $500 per day if noise continues beyond the acceptable cutoff which is 9 p.m., according to the letter.

Harris said that he found it “strange” and offered up other comparisons to illustrate his point.

While the pastor insists that choir practice goes from 7 p.m.-9 p.m. on Wednesdays, the complaint alleges that music has remained loud until 2 a.m. on at least one occasion.

A spokesperson for the city said that the notice to the church was out of courtesy and that there are no plans to implement a fine, seeing as there have been no additional complaints. The Becket Fund, though, is still looking into the matter.

“[We] strongly condemns this kind of heavy-handed censorship, and is very concerned that this may be unfairly discriminatory, ” the legal firm said. “Some commentators have already raised concerns that this may be an example of punishing ‘singing while black.’”

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