South Carolina pastor gets jail sentence for church's loud services

Pastor Johnnie ClarkRichland County Detention Center

A South Carolina pastor must spend two weeks in jail following noise complaints against his church.

Pastor Johnnie Clark of Rehoboth United Assemblies Church in Columbia was found guilty of unlawful sound amplification this week by a Richland County jury.

Noise complaints have been filed against the church for two years as neighbours disputed the church's use of drums, microphones, and speakers. Columbia Police were called to Rehoboth more than 50 times, and the church has paid several fines related to noise violations, USAToday reports.

In June, a judge prohibited the church from using any sound amplifying devices between 8pm and 8am – a mandate that co-pastor and first lady Harriet Clark called prejudicial.

"They are trying to tell us how not to worship," she told WLTX. "We have church at 7:30, so what does that mean, we only have 30 minutes to worship?"

Thomas Borders, a 20-year member of Rehoboth, emphasised that the church has been in the neighbourhood longer than some of the houses surrounding it.

"We didn't build the church on the house; the house was built on the church," he said.

Borders also said that the city ordinance is too subjective.

"It's up to the neighbours to say if it's irritating to them or a nuisance to them," he lamented. "Well you can get a weed eater and go outside and if someone complains nothing will be done, but when it comes to worshipping God, it's now a problem."

Pastor Clark was tried for three days before being found guilty. For the first time in over 30 years, his wife had to lead service without him.

"I can't believe it, jail time, for serving God, what's next?" First Lady Clark asked. The only solution the church foresees would be an expensive one.

"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," she said.