COLUMBIA, S.C. — A local pastor has been sentenced to jail after neighbors complained about his church's loud services, which violated the city's noise ordinance.
For nearly two years, the Rehoboth United Assemblies Church and neighbors have been embroiled in a dispute over the amount of sound coming from the house of worship.
This week, a Richland County jury found church pastor Johnnie Clark guilty of unlawful sound amplification following a three-day trial where prosecutors laid out their evidence against him.
Clark was sentenced to two weeks in jail.
Police have been called to the church more than 50 times for noise complaints. Neighbors said the noise coming from the musical equipment could be heard late into the evening and early in the morning. The neighbors recorded some of the episodes as part of their evidence of the noise.
After the verdict, neighbors declined to comment on Clark's sentence.
The church has paid several of their fines for multiple violations of the city noise ordinance, but after the verdict, Clark must now not only pay money, but spend time behind bars.
"I can't believe it, jail time, for serving God, what's next," said Harriet Clark, the pastor's wife and the church's co-pastor.
For the first time in more than 30 years, Harriet Clark had to conduct a church service without her husband by her side.
In June, a judge granted an injunction that would prohibit the church from using sound-amplifying devices like drums or microphones between 8 p.m. and 8 a.m. On multiple occasions, officers were called to the church and said that the worship was too loud.
Documents show the church violated that injunction repeatedly.
"They are trying to tell us how not to worship," Clark said. "We have church at 7:30, so what does that mean we only have 30 minutes to worship?
Thomas Borders, a church member for 20 years, believes the congregation's rights are being violated because they can't praise God in their own way. He says the real problem is that the city noise ordinance isn't specific.
"It's up to the neighbors to say if its irritating to them or a nuisance to them," he 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 its now a problem."
The church has owned the property for several years and thinks it's not fair that they are being punished because of the close proximity to their neighbors.
Clark says the only solution is to soundproof the building, which will be very expensive.
"Everyone is just praying that this will be settled but the only way I know is to go through a lot of expenses to sound proof the church."