Dear PoP – Church Protests – Free Speech or Disturbing the Peace?


“Dear PoP,

You have featured the Ethiopian Orthodox Church located at 4100 Illinois Ave on a couple occasions on your site and my issue is related to it. Every Sunday, from around 8am to 1pm, services are offered at this Church. During these services, a pickup truck with a variety of placards parks directly in front or across the Street from this Church. Along with the placards the trucks emits very loud music as well as political slogans. I can’t be certain of what the slogans translate to, as I’m not familiar with the language, however I can only assume that they echo the slogans on the placards… Things like “Election Fraud in Ethiopia” or “Don’t Let American Moral Value Die” or “Ethiopia Leadership is Dictatorship with Blood Stained Hands.”

Now, I’m all for all types of religion and freedom of speech, but the music/slogans are incredibly loud and can be heard throughout the entire neighborhood not to mention in all parts of my house. I tried to speak with the person in the truck but we had a language barrier and when i motioned to turn down the loudspeaker, he said no with a smile. Fine. So I called 4D and inquired about the legality of this…Mind you, I have no deep knowledge in law (i have seen how this community has lambasted fellow posters when assuming application of law) but I thought perhaps this would fall under disturbing the peace or at least not having a proper permit for protesting.

Let me be clear that I really don’t mind, in fact I enjoy, when the Church has celebrations occasionally in honor of religious holidays and weddings. However, these protests are a weekly occurrence and have reached my nerves.  I’m sure other members of my street will complain about the foot traffic, litter, the fact that the truck blocks one lane of traffic, and lack of parking when the church has services – me I just want my peace and quiet.

So, as i was saying, I called 4D and was told by Officer Grant that because the protest was in front of a Church, they didn’t need a permit. When I re-iterated that it was in a residential neighborhood and in front of my house he again told me that they didn’t need a permit. When I asked if there was anything the constituents could do to address this issue, he flatly said “no, sorry.”

So, would be interested in the community’s thoughts on this…any advice? Am I being ridiculous? Also would be interested if people think this affects property value?”

Hmm, very interesting question. If I lived next door I think it would drive me crazy. I do live fairly close but fortunately don’t recall hearing the truck (though I have seen it before). What would you guys do if you lived on this block? Do you think it should be legal for this truck to blast slogans every Sunday? Does this city have no power in enforcing a reasonable decibel level?


55 Comment

  • Diversity can add value to a community. Nuisance behavior can only detract from it.

    This putz may have every right to drive his eyesore sign around, but he has no right to obstruct traffic and no right to pollute your environment with his blaring noise. And for the love of the FSM, don’t be suckered by his little “language barrier” ploy–he knows exactly what he’s doing, and he most likely understood every word you said. When he “said no with a smile” he wasn’t smiling, he was laughing at you because he was enjoying the behavioral latitude that your cultural sensitivity affords him. We all have to respect one another and operate with a modicum of class if this whole melting pot thing is to work, and he’s clearly got no regard for anyone but himself. Eff him.

  • I bet you $1000 that if you go stand in front of the Baptist Church on New Hampshire at Taylor St. with a bullhorn and start screaming that the church members are pharisees and whoremongers, “Officer Grant” and his friends will not only advise you that you need a permit, but will do say while hauling your ass to jail in handcuffs.

    In a word, Officer Grant either (a) fed you a line of BS because he was too lazy to be bothered, or (b) is too stupid to understand the issues involving the interaction between church and state, and crawls into a hole whenever anyone complains about anything remotely related to a house of worship.

    Locating a noisy event near a church does not give you the right to block traffic, scream, blast horns, or anything else that otherwise violates the law.

  • Looks like the officer did feed you BS. From the photos it’s clear that the truck is blocking the street. And even if he doesn’t need permit to protest but at 8 am on Sunday?

  • This must be the same guy who drives down my street (arkansas ave) every Sunday, and places crap on my windshield (also a nuisance and litter, but hes not the only one).

  • When friends and relatives visit they are shocked that the gov’t here allows this religious behaviour – parking, blaring dogma, owning boarded up property in the middle of the city, etc. This is a backwards political correctness that only hurts the community. I ask, how can we change this? Who is benefiting from this religionism? I know that a few reverends drive very fancy cars, but I would like to know more about the parish folks and what drives them.

  • I think you would get further talking to your ANC or your councilperson, than going to the police.

  • Call the police but don’t mention the church, just describe the person as a crazy person in a car blasting loud noises.

  • 1. Caltrops.
    2. Louder loudspeaker with obnoxious/obscene music

  • Call the police again. If you get the same response, demand to speak to their commander, and so on and so on until they come and make the jack ass leave.

  • A) He’s parking abrest, which is a ticket.
    B) You don’t need a permit to protest in DC (anymore). It may be on the books, but the last I heard was that we wouldn’t be enforcing it.
    C) MPD can’t really enforce noise ordinances because the training to enforce DCMR regulations hasn’t been offered in years, and even if it were there probably aren’t funds to purchase noise meters.
    D) It’s a First Amendment protest and as an officer I’d be loathe to interfere too much lest I be on the receiving end of a civil rights complaint.
    E) If it really gets you that much, call and ask to speak to the “Watch Commander”. It’ll be a Lieutenant or a Captain most of the time. Barring that, ask to speak to the PSA lieutenant.

  • Perhaps the guy is not associated with the church, just his targeted audience. In either case perhaps approach the church people about it first.

  • Bucket of Paint, handful of jumping jacks

  • Parking abreast is a ticketing offense in DC? On a Sunday? Are you kidding? You’d have to ticket practically every Christian in the city. Many churches have no parking facilities, make no attempt to encourage public transit, and have no respect for the rights of other DC residents…at least not on Sundays. Their right to park in front of their church overrides the rights of everyone and everything else. Cars are parked 2 and 3 deep for blocks around churches during Sunday services and God help you if you need to remove your car parked legally at the curb, you won’t get anywhere near it until 1pm. As for this jerk in your neighborhood, why not get together with some neighbors and show up earlier than him with your own vehicles spread out in front of the church and block his access for a few weeks. Bring a placard that says “Peace on Sundays” so you can tell officer bonehead that you’re right to protest in front of a church is protected. Read your paper, bring a thermos of coffee and share some gossip and muffins with your new multi-car coffee-klatch. Maybe a few weeks of his own medicine and the jerk will disappear. Or go all confrontational on him and surround his truck with bullhorn-carrying neighbors and shriek and bellow at him from inches away. See how he likes it. I just get so fed up with one person or group exercising their “rights” while the majority be damned.

  • I think the bigger question here is why does the submitter support election fraud in Ethiopia?

  • I think churches are the biggest disturbance to the peace.

  • Call the police, email the police, and post it on the 4D listserve. Speaking as someone who was arrested for protesting without a permit I can tell you it is illegal.

  • I don’t see where the original poster made any attempt to contact the leadership of the church. It is likely that the truck owner is an exuberant parishioner and not representing the whole of the church. I suggest you find several neighbors who are equally irritated by the truck and make and appointment to discuss it with the church leaders. Address the noise and double parking concerns and ask them to recitfy it with their church member before you are forced to get the legal authorities involved.

  • I don’t see any attempt by the original poster to contact the church leadership. It is likely that the truck is one exuberant parishioner and not representing the entire church. Find several neighbors who are equally as irritated and schedule a meeting with the church leadership. Address the concerns of noise and parking and ask them to resolve it with their member before you are forced to seek legal assistance.

    • The man is Eritrean complaining about the government of Ethiopia- this is clear from the picture.

      • If the man is Eritrian and protesting against the Ethiopians it is even more reason to enlist the help of the Ethiopian church.

      • Why would an Eritrean demonstrate about Ethiopian government ‘election fraud’ on the Ethiopian people?

      • Um, no it’s not.

        Eritreans don’t generally care about election fraud in Ethiopia and you certainly don’t find them begging for the protection of 80 million Ethiopians. They have plenty of problems in Eritrea…

        Most of the Ethiopian diaspora in the DC area is strongly opposed to Meles Zenawi’s government. The last Ethiopian elections were in fact deemed fraudulent by most international observers, and in spite of this and the violence the gov’t used to suppress post-election demonstrations, the US government still gives tons of money to the GoE each year as thanks for their willingness to invade Somalia on our behalf.

  • In June 2008, the council approved a very, very watered-down noise bill (it was so altered that Wells and Cheh who had originally supported it, were no longer in support). Anyway, according to the legislation that was approved: “noncommercial public speech during the day would be restricted to no greater than 80 decibels or 10 decibels above the ambient noise level when measured from the nearest an occupied residence.”

    Getting it measured is a whole different story, but in addition to the blocking a lane of traffic, you do have some semblance of a law on your side.

  • If you politely asked the person to turn down the music, in my opinion, you have gone above and beyond in terms of being reasonable. I would simply call the police and file a noise complaint as that is the clear violation. Hopefully, the police will see that the vehicle is double parked and force them to turn down the music and move the vehicle.

    If it was just the sign, I would chalk it up to “freedom of speech” and “freedom of assembly.”

  • The first step of problem solving is creating a problem.

    At the moment, you are the only one with a problem. You need to make this a problem for the city council, the police, etc. You’re going to have to annoy the Hell out of them (ironically).

    It’s funny how a noise complain is taken by so many as a reason to blast religions that they don’t agree with. They’re all about diversity and religious freedom, unless it’s the wrong kind of diversity or a religion that they don’t like.

  • Or you could take a baseball bat to the bullhorn….

  • Banish him to Marklar 😉

  • I would do everything the people here have suggested – write your council member, write the police, etc etc.. Mention that the officer you talked to said that he couldn’t do anything because everything being done is perfectly legal. Mention the name of the police officer who gave you that line of BS. I would also talk to the church leaders.

    If there is still nothing being done, then I would counter protest the protest. Bigger truck. Bigger speaker. And try to get your neighbors in on it.

  • i would get a huge banner for the opposite cause or whatever cause this guy would find most detestable and drape it down the front of your rowhouse and drown out his music with your own.

  • that’s ridiculous–back when I was in law school, the police came knocking on the door of several parties I attended for noise complaints (and justifiably so, I’m sure). Definitely keep bugging the cops, and frankly I don’t think you need to spend half of your email apologizing and defending yourself as not “hating” any culture or religion. Noise is noise! Hell, the ice cream truck that parks on my block for hours with its music blaring pisses me off; in my opinion you are totally justified in being irritated.

  • You’re being ridiculous. A few hours of loud noise is a small price to pay to have a vibrant, interesting, and yes, loud, democracy. Get over yourself.

    • would you say that if the dead-fetus truck were parked outside your house?

    • You’re being ridiculous. I work all week (ergo the username) and cannot imagine how mad I would be if my Sunday mornings were intruded on like this.

      • The world does not revolve around your Sunday mornings.

        • Anonymous, you’re wrong. This is EVERY SUNDAY MORNING and the OP should just turn the other cheek?

          Get over YOURself. It would drive me nuts, and I would surely find a way to quiet that SOB. Sugar in his gas tank, if it came to it.

  • Blogs make people rude to the extreme. If we are all in the same room discussing this, I bet it will be more civil. i am sure you won’t be using half the words you liberally use here.

  • i don’t know how loud this is. I live around the corner from this church and in the two years I have lived here I have never heard any sort of noise on a Sunday morning. And I’m up by 8:30- 9 am.

  • 1) Get a loud stereo.
    2) Blast death metal at the top volume.
    3) When the police come to shut you down, and they will, point out that douchey mcdoucherton is being just as loud.

    • i like this idea…then again i also like death metal. and to the person who said

      “noise complain is taken by so many as a reason to blast religions that they don’t agree with. They’re all about diversity and religious freedom, unless it’s the wrong kind of diversity or a religion that they don’t like.”

      well i say F em all…muslims, christians, jews, this freak(ethiopian christian?) all the same in the end. i am all about diversity but you can keep your “religious freedom” to yourself and off the street. thanks.

  • I live on the same block as the church so I can vouch for the noise. It is loud and it is virtually every sunday, save for the winter months. I didn’t really notice him then–and it has been this way since I’ve lived here. I’m pretty sure the cop you talked to fed you a line because I have seen the police out here before asking him to leave. It clearly does nothing to deter him. Also, I don’t think the church will or could be of much help because I think he’s protesting the parishioners. He often gets out of his car and screams in his bullhorn at them as they’re leaving their services. Otherwise he sits out front blaring his music or driving around the block doing the same. Perhaps if enough of us start contacting our councilperson, something may happen. Though, I have to say I haven’t found them to be very responsive regarding an issue we have with a german shepard being locked in an empty lot across our allyway. That dog barks incredibly loudly at all hours of the day; has no home; and has been taken away by the Humane society when the owner left him to be buried alive during snowpocalpyse–only to be returned to the same abusive owner after the storm. What’s wrong with this town?

  • looks like the protest has done exactly what it wanted to do. now you’ve given them publicity.

    i had a neighbor that used to blast reggae music every sunday during the day. yeah it’s not “ideal” but it was only on sundays and during the day. at least i knew when to expect it. i realize that sometimes living in a city you have to give a little.

  • Ummm..seems to be a lo
    t of people are commenting on this are skim readers..if you are agitated than I think the protester was the sage anonymous person who recognized that the protester is in fact not preaching and that his target audience is the church parishners you should share your neurons with some of the other bloggers. The rest of you exposed your lack of cultural sensitivity, ignorance and prejudice by presuming this was about religion or culture. Its about democracy and yes “disturbing the peace” yours and that of the church service to create awareness. If he had not disturbed your sunday you would not have known,irregardless of whether or not you “care”, about fraudulent elections in Ethiopia..And I’m sure talking to the Church will not do much as the protester likely is NOT a parishoner..if the men in blue will not do anything write to someone who actually can do something, oh say perhaps like someone who has an impact on US policy on Ethiopia?!ooh wait even better, besides telling him to shut up, why don’t you ask him to relate to you more on the matter and MAYBE you can come to some agreement on effective ways he can annoy churchgoers & not your sleep now that you are aware & “sympathetic” to his cause..I. Can only “presume” that elites such as yourself could “try” being so “enlightened” and “cultured” as you all are

    • Oh, come on.

      “Please sir, do tell me more about why you wake me every Sunday with those blaring speakers. I’m feeling the need to be culturally enlightened.”

      Yeah, and then he’ll turn it down.


      Why don’t you invite him to your place?

  • This is disturbing your piece and the vehicle should be ticketed and towed if the guy refuses to leave. My family has lived in the Petworth Neighborhood for almost 70 years. I dont live near the church but if this happened where I live our neighbors would work TOGETHER like REAL neighbors are suppose to do to try to remedy this concern.

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