Michigan Muslim decision
ArtSpitzer at aol.com
ArtSpitzer at aol.com
Thu May 13 13:55:45 PDT 2004
The ACLU of Michigan put out the following press release on April 30:
Press Statement Regarding "Call to Prayer" in Hamtramck
Kary Moss, Executive Director
April 30, 2004
In the past week, the ACLU of Michigan has received hundreds of call and
emails from around the country from people asking our position on the amended
Hamtramck noise ordinance (No. 434) passed by the City Council. The change in the
ordinance occurred in response to a request that the City allow a Muslim call
to prayer five times a day.
We applaud the City for attempting to accommodate religious speech and there
are ways that they can do it in a constitutional manner. The ACLU is a
strong advocate of both religious freedom and the separation of church and state.
We believe that government should remain neutral in matters of religion. It
must not suppress the free exercise of religion nor may it promote religion
It is because of the separation of church and state, not in spite of it, that
Americans enjoy such a degree of religious freedom unknown to the rest of the
world. And Americans take full advantage of their freedom: The United
States is home to more than 1500 different religions, with more than 360,000
churches, synagogues and mosques.
Balancing these important constitutional rights is tricky: In an effort to be
accommodating to members of the Muslim faith, the City has tried to make it
lawful for a mosque to broadcast the call to prayer five times a day which
would not have been possible under the original noise ordinance. That ordinance,
which we also believe has its own constitutional problems, makes it unlawful
"for any person to create, assist in creating … any excessive, unnecessary or
unusually loud noise, or any noise which either annoys, disturbs…."
The new amendment says: "The City shall permit ‘call to prayer,’ ‘church
bells’ and other means of announcing religious meetings to be amplified between
the hours of 6am and 10pm for a duration not to exceed five minutes." (emphasis
The city must allow for reasonable "accommodation" of religious speech, as it
would for other forms of expression, but it cannot single out any religious
speech – whether Christian, Muslim, Jewish or other -- for favored treatment
over other speech protected by the First Amendment.
To solve this dilemma, make the original ordinance constitutional, and to
accommodate the needs of Muslims, Christians, and members of other faiths, the
City should fix the original ordinance and create what are called "reasonable
time, place, and manner restrictions." These restrictions need to equally
apply to other non-religious protected speech.
The City can, for example, limit the hours, duration and maximum noise level,
in which calls to prayer and ringing of church bells are permissible. It
should do so by adopting specific neutral criteria that covers both religious and
non-religious noise. The maximum level of sound permitted under the
ordinance should be scientifically measurable and not subjectively based.
To reiterate, the City has done its best to be sensitive to the needs of the
community. It has, unfortunately, gone too far but it is a problem that needs
to be corrected in the interests of all those who live in Hamtramck.
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