South Carolina pastor Johnnie Clark was sentenced to jail after he repeatedly violated the city’s noise ordinance during church services.
In the past, Columbia police officers have been called to the church more than 50 times for noise complaints. According to neighbors, noise from musical equipment could be heard late into the evening and early morning.
In June, a Columbia judge granted an injunction that prohibited the church from using amplifying devices like drums or microphones between 8 p.m. and 8 a.m.. However, officers were still called to the church for noise complaints.
Despite the noise complaints, church member Thomas Borders has argued that the church has been at its current location for more than 25 years, and that its neighbors have only recently moved in. Because of this, Borders has insisted that being punished for the church’s close proximity to its neighbors isn’t fair.
"It's up to the neighbors to say if it’s irritating to them or a nuisance to them,” Borders said. “Well you can get a weed eater and go outside and if someone complains nothing will be done, but when it comes to worshiping God it's now a problem,"
On Thursday, after a three-day long trial, a judge found Clark guilty of unlawful sound amplification. Clark is currently detained at the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center.
"I can't believe it, jail time for serving God," Clark’s wife, Harriet, said. "What's next?"
Clark noted that the only solution to reduce noise levels is to soundproof the church, though the process would be expensive.
On Thursday, and for the first time in 30 years, Mrs. Clark held a church service without her husband.