We just received word that Bishop Rick Painter’s criminal conviction for ringing his Church’s bells was overturned. Many of you have been following the story of churches in Phoenix that have been punished or threatened with punishment for ringing their churches’ bells. The case started when Bishop Painter of Cathedral of Christ the King in Phoenix was convicted of violating the City’s noise ordinance and was sentenced to 10 days in jail (suspended) and 3 years of probation. You can read the story in my past blog posts here and here.
But did you catch what I just said? A Phoenix pastor was sentenced to jail for ringing his Church’s bells. I have litigated this case for almost a year now and I still get chills down my spine whenever I realize what happened in this case and how far the City of Phoenix was willing to go to silence this one church. In all my legal and historical research for this case, I was never able to uncover a single instance in the United States where a pastor had been sentenced to jail and branded a criminal for simply ringing church bells.
No pastor should ever have to fear criminal prosecution or jail time for peacefully exercising their religion. The very idea that the government has taken the step of sentencing a pastor to jail for ringing church bells should awaken the revolutionary spirit inside every American citizen. This country is, after all, the land of the free and our founders made sure to enshrine the freedom of religion in the First Amendment, thus making it our first freedom. Yet how can we claim as a nation to value and uphold religious freedom when a pastor has his freedom taken away by a criminal court for ringing church bells? This is something that churches across the world have been doing for centuries.
I am thankful to God that this case was successfully resolved. After all, it is cases like this that ADF exists for. As one of our founders Bill Bright stated, ADF’s mission is to “keep the door open for the spread of the Gospel.” We are thankful that the door remains open in Phoenix after this litigation. But let this case stand as a reminder that as the attacks on the Church in America intensify in the coming days, we must be prepared to meet the attacks head-on. The attacks may come from a variety of sources. In fact, if someone had told me a year ago that a pastor in America would be sentenced to jail for ringing church bells, I would have found the idea amusing to say the least. But the Church can come under attack from almost any conceivable location. And it is our duty to stand ready at the watch for the first signs of those attacks.
Bishop Painter is a free man today, thank God. But let his brush with jail time cause us to remember how fragile freedom is in an increasingly secular and authoritarian society. And let us commit ourselves anew to continue the fight to keep the Church free. Stand with ADF today. Let us know of any attacks in your area and sign up to receive our updates so you can stay informed. Together, through God’s grace and in His strength, we can fulfill the vision of Dr. Bright and keep the doors of the Church open for the spread of the life-changing message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.