Michiganites plagued by overearly calls to prayer, FFRF steps in

By L. Seidel
Staff Attorney
Freedom From Religion Foundation

Religion is forcing inhabitants of a Michigan town to wake up way too early. The Freedom From Religion Foundation wants to make sure that they get their proper sleep.

The Hamtramck City Council has exempted calls to prayer and church bells from the local noise ordinance. As a result, city residents are often being roused from their slumber at ridiculous hours. In one case, mosques called worshippers to prayer at 3:27 a.m.

LEFT: an image of Bilal Ibn Rabah, the first muezzin, calling worshippers to prayer without technological assistance. Moez, WikiCommons, public domain.
RIGHT: a minaret with a public address system. Not only does the muezzin not have to climb up, but his calls carry much farther. DCubillas, WikiCommons, CC3.0.

I wrote a letter for FFRF to the City Council asking it to repeal its noise ordinance exemption for religious broadcasting.

“The noise ordinance is a reasonable restriction meant to foster a peaceful, quiet community with a well-rested population,” I explained. “It is a neutral and generally applicable statute, and religious announcements, calls to prayer or church bells should not be exempt.”

The inevitable counterargument to our point will be to claim that it would burden religious freedom by impeding calls to prayer and the ringing of church bells. But it doesn’t.

First, FFRF is not trying to stop anyone from praying.

Second, we’re not even trying to stop the calls to prayer. We’re just trying to ensure that religion is not imposed on every citizen and that the prayer-callers obey the same laws as everyone else.

There might be an issue of religious freedom if local Muslims needed to announce those prayers via high volume loudspeakers in order to worship. But they clearly do not. The exemption is not broad enough to allow mosques to broadcast sunrise calls to prayer—which can be as early as 4:10 in June—for about seven months each year. If the sunrise call can be delayed to a more humane hour during those months without burdening religious freedom, why not all year?

And it is borderline absurd to believe that people must be called to prayer in this day and age. Between wristwatches, cellphones, alarm clocks, text messaging, Facebook, Twitter, and every other means of quickly communicating, there is simply no need to blanket an entire community with calls to prayer that only a portion of the community heeds. There are plenty of websites worshippers can use to determine prayer times. It took me two minutes to print out all the prayer times for 2016. Surely, the mosque could do this for worshippers or set up a group text or email alert.

Nor can the mosques claim that using these modern technologies somehow violates their religious freedom because modern technology is the problem in the first place. For centuries, the muezzin were only able to call prayers using the strength of their voice, but now they can broadcast their prayers for entire towns to hear. It is a churlish double standard to use amplification technology to broadcast religious messages at an intrusive volume, yet refuse technology that would deliver the religious message to specific worshippers.

Mosques and churches can easily communicate directly with their congregation in hundreds of ways that do not disturb the peace, tranquility, and sleep of every other citizen. If they insist on calling people to pray at ungodly hours, they should use a less intrusive method.

FFRF is simply trying to ensure that religion is not given a legal privilege to impose its tenets on others. We don’t care if anyone prays or calls other people to prayer, just so long as you don’t force us to take part.

[Note: Trolls such as Fox News’ Todd Starnes repeatedly claim that FFRF never goes after non-Christian violators of the constitutional separation between state and religion. This is yet another example disproving that ridiculous notion, which has already been thoroughly debunked.]

FFRF is a national nonprofit dedicated to keeping state and church separate and educating about nontheism. We depend on member support, please join today.

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