Calling the city's threat to fine a Manayunk church for ringing its bell at 7 a.m. "silly," Councilman Jim Kenney said he would draft legislation to exempt churches and schools from Philadelphia's noise ordinance.
St. John the Baptist received notice from the Health Department last week warning that some neighbors had complained about its morning bell ringing.
The letter said the 179-year-old parish could be fined up to $700 a day if inspectors determine the chimes can be heard at the nearest residential property.
"The whole situation is just silly," Kenney said. "There should be some discretion when it comes to situations like this. It's like shooting fish in a barrel. It's heavy-handed, and the city doesn't need that reputation."
Officials at St. John's reacted with joy when they heard of Kenney's proposal.
"That's absolutely wonderful!" said Rosemary Swider, the business manager at the church. "This will ease the minds of people at churches all around us. They've all been wondering 'Are we going to be next?'"
Kenney said his proposed legislation would apply to all religions equally, which would also cover the adhan, the Islamic call to prayer, which is recited five times a day from mosques.
The noise code, last amended in 2006, makes exemptions for trains, aircraft, and licensed fireworks displays. It also allows for animal sounds from zoos, circuses and laboratories. Houses of worship are only mentioned once, and that is to protect them from outside noise that would interfere with services.
The Air Services Management division of the Health Department enforces the ordinance. Director Thomas Huynh said Wednesday that AMS has fined city churches in the past and, on rare occasions, has pressed charges.
Councilman Curtis Jones represents Manayunk. His spokesman Al Shivey said the city had received five or six complaints about the 109-year-old bell at St. John's.
"We really think that this is much ado about nothing," Shivey said. "Whoever moves to this area knows there's a church and a church bell. If you don't like the sound of a church bell, you don't move into the area."