Bishop arrested in Phoenix, Arizona

Father David Epps's picture

Bishop Rick Painter, rector of the Cathedral of Christ the King in Phoenix, Ariz., was recently arrested and twice convicted of a crime. His offense? What was it that would prompt law enforcement officials and the judicial system to focus on the 68-year-old bishop of a cathedral?

Bell ringing. He was arrested and convicted for ringing bells.

Growing up in Kingsport, Tenn., I well remember the downtown area where several churches were clustered together. At the time, there were two Methodist churches, a Baptist church, and a Presbyterian church. These magnificent structures were located in an area that became known as Church Circle.

One of the pleasantries of life in Kingsport was shopping downtown and, at the appropriate times, hearing the church bells ring.

I really don’t know if they belonged to one of the four churches or if several churches rang the bells. If I recall correctly, they all had bell towers and, presumably, bells.

The church bells were a part of downtown life, a part of what it meant to be a Kingsport native. Church bells have been part of religious life for centuries and have been a part of the American scene since the founding of the nation.

Not, however, in Phoenix. In an article in the September 2009 Bulletin of the American Association for Retired People (AARP), under the heading, “What an Outrage,” Painter’s plight, and the circumstances leading to his arrest, is revealed.

In 2007, the congregation served by Bishop Painter moved to its present location in north Phoenix. The bell ringing — actually recorded chimes — began playing through loudspeakers on Palm Sunday 2008. Initially, the bells played every half hour.

A handful of irate neighbors complained and the bells were limited to playing once an hour from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. The church even installed noise-absorbent foam in front of the speakers.

The sound of the church bells was recorded at 67 decibels (or dB). For comparison, it may be noted that normal conversation is 60-70 dB. Normal piano practice is 60-70 dB, while a flute sounds out at 92-103 dB. A violin is 82-92 dB and a piccolo is 90-106 dB. In fact, it is reported that the bells and music of an ice cream truck is louder that Painter’s church bells.

Nonetheless, those who hate all things churchy seem to have won the day. A complaint was filed by a few neighbors who, it may be assumed, have no problems with conversations, pianos, flutes, violins, piccolos, and ice cream trucks, and Bishop Painter was arrested.

In June the bishop was found guilty of two counts of disturbing the peace, a charge usually reserved for drunks, loud parties, people who fight on the streets, and those who curse loudly in public.

Now the bells at the church in Phoenix ring only for Sunday worship services. They have been silenced otherwise. A religious liberties group, the Alliance Defense Fund, plans to appeal the conviction, according to the AARP article.

“The interesting thing,” said Bishop Painter, “is that the people who are closest to the bells are not complaining.”

Ask not for whom the bell tolls — it tolls (only when allowed by the courts) for freedom and faith in Phoenix, Ariz.

[David Epps is the pastor of The Cathedral of Christ the King, 4881 Hwy. 34 E., Sharpsburg, GA 30277, between Peachtree City and Newnan. Services are held Sundays at 8:30 and 10 a.m. He is also the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese ( and is the mission pastor of Christ the King Church in Champaign, IL. He may be contacted at]

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Main Stream's picture
Submitted by Main Stream on Thu, 09/24/2009 - 3:56pm.

Nice spin there, Mr. Epps. Bishop Painter sounds like an obstinate child who couldn't get his way, which was for the "bells" to ring every day, on the half hour, plus assorted songs which were all blasted over a loud speaker set on top of the church roof. The neighbors were there long before that church moved in. What happened to "love thy neighbor"? Bishop Painter's sense of entitlement reflects an attitude of "piss-off thy neighbor."

On March 16, 2008 - Palm Sunday - the bells began to chime.
They were supposed to ring every morning at 7. But there was a glitch, and they rang at 6, well before sunrise. For the next 14 hours, the bells rang every half hour, plus songs at 9 a.m., noon, 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. Jim Lee, the church's deacon and administrator, said ringing the bells was doing the Lord's work. "He told us," Deacon Jim Lee said. "He told us to go forth and proclaim."

The neighbors

Al and Reva Brooks were asleep in their bedroom on March 16, 2008. They have slept in that room, in their home on Caribbean Lane, since 1962. The window was open. "I knew I had to do something about those bells the first time those things woke me up," Al said. Two doors down, Anna Casbeer was getting an earful. Her home is closest to the church. She found the bells disturbing. Annoying. Stressful.

Marcia Sielaff lived in her home on Caribbean Lane for 48 years. Her house was for sale, and she suddenly worried if anybody would buy it. Three doors from Al and Reva, Sam Jensen could not believe it. He had lived in his home for 38 years and loved the morning quiet, which was suddenly gone. Maddening, he called the bells. The bells don't rattle plates or windowpanes. But they can be heard across the neighborhood.

People a few blocks away might even find them to be pleasant. But of course, the closer you get, the louder they are. And nobody was closer than the folks on Caribbean Lane. Brooks called the police on the very first day.

The compromise

Instead of bells from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., they offered, the bells would ring only from 8 to 8. Instead of twice an hour, they would ring once an hour. Instead of four songs a day, there would be just one.

The church would elevate the speakers to help project the sound beyond Caribbean Lane. And it would put foam around the speakers to cut the volume.

The neighbors had a different idea of compromise. Play the bells on Sunday, they said. That's it.

But the church had gone as far as it would go. At 8 the next morning, the bells began to ring.

The noise

The bells would ring for the next year. Every morning, they would begin, and every time they rang, it felt unfair.

Jensen bought a machine that creates background noise so he might be able to grab a nap or sleep in. The artificial sound of falling rain helped. Brooks stopped reading the paper on his back porch.

Casbeer started to schedule her day so that she would not be outside when the bells rang. The bells, she said, were too much. "But sometimes I get so busy in my flowerbeds and stuff, I overstay," she said.

The residents of Caribbean Lane, retired and home most of the day, could never get used to the hourly toll. Instead of learning to live with them, they came to dread them.

On the first morning the police came, Officer Cook had suggested the neighbors contact the Phoenix School of Law, which offers a free mediation clinic. The neighbors pursued it, and an appointment for the two sides to come together was set.

Then the church backed out.

"They had told us it was non-binding mediation," Bishop Painter said. "But when we saw the paperwork, we saw it could form a legally binding contract on when we could ring the bells. Well, we couldn't do that."

They created a packet with a cover letter, an aerial map of their neighborhood that showed their proximity to the church, and a recording of the bells from Jensen's backyard.

They mailed these packets to the police; to their city councilwoman, Thelda Williams; to their local police station; to the city prosecutor's office; and to the Phoenix School of Law.

They made countless phone calls. The neighbors figured somebody, eventually, would have to listen.

And the bells continued to ring. A collision was becoming inevitable.

The Ruling

In February of 2009, a letter arrived at the bishop's home. Section 23-12 of the city code addresses the issue of "nuisances and noise." It says: "Subject to the provisions of this article the creating of any unreasonably loud, disturbing and unnecessary noise within the limits of the City is hereby prohibited."

City prosecutor Aarón Carreón-Aínsa has been with the city for 31 years and cannot remember a case like this. But, he says, all city residents should be able to enjoy their homes. "The law says you are entitled to peace and quiet," Carreón-Aínsa said. "If a noise bothers you, you get to go to court."

The Municipal Court judge, Lori Metcalf, was not swayed by the broader arguments. In her court, a person's right to enjoy his home is inviolate. "People cannot enjoy their homes," Metcalf said. "And what else do we have if we can't enjoy our homes?"

With that, she found Bishop Painter guilty on two counts of disturbing the peace. One for the first time he played the bells, and one for when he turned them back on. He received a 10-day suspended jail sentence and three years of probation.

Then she addressed the issue of the bells. They could ring, she said, but only once a week. And only on Sunday morning.


Submitted by AtHomeGym on Thu, 09/24/2009 - 6:12pm.

Ruling makes sense to me.

NUK_1's picture
Submitted by NUK_1 on Thu, 09/24/2009 - 6:39pm.

I don't have any problem with that ruling either. Makes a lot of sense, and it's hardly some kind of unreasonable infringement on the church. When discussions fail and compromises can't be reached, it requires a ruling and this was a good one to me.

tortugaocho's picture
Submitted by tortugaocho on Thu, 09/24/2009 - 7:30pm.

Local churches get away with far worse around here with the banging drums and heavy metal outside all for the "pass the plate and serve the Lord" stuff. Father Oops is part of that same in crowd that thinks laws don't apply to them. I agree with NUK--- you try to compromise. Around here the churches steamroll.

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