The city of Minneapolis should revoke a new ordinance allowing the broadcast of an amplified call to prayer at any time of the day, the Freedom From Religion Foundation is demanding.
Multiple concerned residents have informed the state/church watchdog that the city of Minneapolis has altered its noise violation statute to allow religious organizations, including churches and mosques, to broadcast bells, chimes and amplified messages at all hours of the day. While the statute ostensibly allows any religious group to disturb their community with noises that would be impermissible if not related to religious purposes, it’s clear this change was made to specifically allow mosques to broadcast an amplified call to prayer as early as 3:30 a.m. and as late as 11 p.m. The change was pushed for by local mosques and Muslims and, tellingly, the ordinance was signed into law inside Dar Al-Hijrah Mosque.
The city of Minneapolis seemingly believes that this change “ensures equal access for all people” and that it “benefits people of all faith,” but this is not the case. Allowing religious organizations a special carve out from Minneapolis’ noise ordinance, which is a reasonable restriction meant to foster a peaceful, quiet community with a well-rested population, is the opposite of equal access. It privileges one religious group’s messages above all others, and all religious messages over any nonreligious speech. (FFRF had written to the city back in 2020 when it allowed a special exemption for amplified calls to prayer during Ramadan for the Dar Al-Hijrah Mosque.)
“The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment prohibits the government from privileging religious messages,” FFRF Staff Attorney Chris Line reminds Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey. “The Supreme Court has said time and again that the ‘First Amendment mandates government neutrality between religion and religion, and between religion and nonreligion.’”
Under the city’s statutory revision, religious messages may be broadcast at any time of day, even the middle of the night, solely because they are religious in nature. Furthermore, this revision was done for the purpose of privileging the call to prayer, which provides a benefit uniquely to the Muslim community. This is not neutrality but is instead an imposition of one religious view and message onto all community members, FFRF contends.
It is also worth pointing out that, rather than uniting Minneapolis’ diverse community, allowing religious organizations to disturb residents in the middle of the night with amplified calls to prayer alienates the nonreligious. Muslims make up just 1 percent of Minneapolis' Hennepin County residents while 30 percent of Hennepin County residents are religiously unaffiliated. It should be noted, too, that in our modern age of cellphones, alarm clocks, and all manner of digital devices, broadcasting a loud, amplified message to an entire community in order to facilitate the religious practices of a select group of members of that community is not only unnecessary, but unreasonable.
In order to respect the constitutional rights of the Minneapolis residents who will be negatively affected by amplified calls to prayer, FFRF asks that the city rescind the changes to Minneapolis’ noise ordinance and treat religion neutrally — with neither hostility nor favoritism.
“City officials may consider the new noise ordinance an inclusive step, but it excludes the vast majority of the population, especially the nonreligious who have no interest in religious messages of any sort,” says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “It likewise subjects the vast majority of the population to untenable noise pollution.”
You can read the full FFRF letter here.
Pictured above: The Dar Al-Hijrah Mosque
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with over 40,000 members and several chapters across the country, including more than 900 members and two chapters in Minnesota. FFRF protects the constitutional separation between state and church, and educates about nontheism.