Michigan Muslim ordinance amendment

lweinberg at mail.law.utexas.edu lweinberg at mail.law.utexas.edu
Thu May 13 21:43:03 PDT 2004

I agree that the city has gone too far in its effort to be 
accommodating.  I believe the comparison between muezzin cries and 
cburchbells fails to capture the expressive and penetrating qualities of 
muezzin cries.  That level of religious noise invites atheists and 
religious groups to demand similar noisy, expressive, lasting, and regular 
intrusions into the lives of the locals.  There is a further 
problem.  Muezzin cries will work for all of the people in the town for 
sure when all of them are Moslems, and in that sense they might be seen as 
a kind of threat.  They can be felt, rightly or wrongly, to say:  "Get out 
of this town, if you don't like these sounds in your life."  I think the 
town should have stuck to its neutral ordinance of general 
application.  Now it may have another  problem.  Once having accommodated, 
is the town free to take it back?

At 03:55 PM 5/13/04, ArtSpitzer at aol.com wrote:
>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.Â
>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 over non-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: 
>Â  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…." Â
>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 added).
>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.Â
>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."Â Â  These restrictions 
>need to equally apply to other non-religious protected speech.Â
>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.Â
>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.
>Art Spitzer
>Washington DC
>To post, send message to Religionlaw at lists.ucla.edu
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