Richmond noise ordinance under scrutiny

Rachel DePompa - bio | email

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - The Richmond City Council will have to take another look at its controversial new noise ordinance. The city passed the ordinance on February 22nd. It was meant to update the old law, make it more current and easier to enforce. Instead, it's created a whole lot of noise of its own.

The rock band, Little Master started the big debate. They cited under the city's new noise ordinance in April for playing at a house party on Clay Street. They took that ticket to court saying the city's ordinance is unconstitutional. A Richmond judge said it probably is, and so did the man who's charged with enforcing it, Commonwealth's Attorney Michael Herring. "If the city's going to regulate noise it can't carve out an exemption for noise created by church functions. I think that is unconstitutional."

Under the ordinance, the ringing of bells, singing, chimes organs and other sounds related to religious expression are allowed, and that's exactly what opponents say is the main problem.

Steven Benjamin is "Little Master's" attorney. He says, "You can't discriminate, you can't censor based upon religion, that's what the city's done."

Herring agrees, but says he has no choice but to enforce the law as it stands. He's calling for the city council to take up the issue immediately. "Include a standard that allows police officers to enforce it with a neutral and objective device like a decibel meter and eliminate the exemption for religious based noise."

Herring says while the problems with the ordinance are worked out at city hall, it's not open season on being loud in the city. "I'm hopeful council will take some action ASAP to correct the statute, but until then, we're going to enforce the law, under the ordinance, as it was written, even though I think it is an improperly drafted ordinance," said Herring.

We should find out this week, if and when the city council will address the ordinance. On the court side of this debate, the judge has asked for written arguments from attorneys and will officially rule on the constitutionality of this law later this year. Though, in court, he's already indicated he believes the ordinance is seriously flawed.

Copyright 2010 WWBT NBC12. All rights reserved.