FALLS CHURCH, Virginia, December 22, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) — Police should not have interfered with pro-life Christmas carolers last weekend, a spokesperson for the city of Falls Church told LifeSiteNews today.
According to the city's Communications Director, Susan Finarelli, the officer who told the group that their caroling in front of an abortion clinic violated the city's noise ordinance was in error.
“On December 19 at about 10:45am, a business called police about a sidewalk being blocked by protesters,” Finarelli said in an e-mailed statement. “Officers responded and asked the 25-30 people to move from the sidewalk; they complied.”
“While there the officers explained that the City’s noise ordinance included singing,” said Finarelli. She clarified that, contrary to what the teens were told by the on-site officer, “without amplified sound or disrupting neighbors or businesses, singing is not considered a violation.”
In a follow-up communication, Finarelli explained: “The officer cautioned the protesters that the singing could be a noise ordinance violation. What he should have explained is that if the singing were to be amplified or become disruptive to businesses or neighbors, then it could be considered a noise ordinance violation. No citations were issued. The group is welcome to return and sing again, provided they do not amplify the singing [and] do not become disruptive.”
In a video, officers told the mother of one of the teens — all three spoke exclusively to LifeSiteNews about their experience — that the singing violated Section 14-51 of the Falls Church Code of Ordinances. The section describes “yelling, shouting, etc.” as “Prohibited Acts.”
In full, the ordinance says: “It shall be unlawful for any person to yell, shout, talk loudly, whistle or sing on any public street or private property in the city at anytime, so as to cause a noise disturbance,” says the ordinance. “This section shall not apply to any person who is participating in a duly permitted or licensed event or who has been duly authorized to engage in such conduct.”
The teens' case was taken up by the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF). In a letter to the city, ADF Senior Counsel Matt Bowman said, “No city ordinance can trump the First Amendment. It’s preposterous to think that any noise ordinance can or should be used to stop the singing of Christmas carols on a public sidewalk.”
After Finarelli issued the first statement, Bowman said, “The City of Falls Church was right to change from Christmas Eve Scrooge to Christmas morning Ebenezer by reversing its ban on Christmas carols. No city ordinance can trump the First Amendment. Singing Christmas carols on a public sidewalk is fully protected by the First Amendment whether or not abortion workers are in a Grinchy kind of mood.”
“The City of Falls Church Police Department has worked with many protest groups over the years,” said Finarelli. “We will continue to support and defend peaceful protest in the City and respect their First Amendment rights.”
Earlier today, both teens told LifeSiteNews they intend to return to sing carols. In a Facebook group event, Christian Defense Coalition's Rev. Patrick Mahoney said he will be at the Falls Church abortion clinic at 12:00 p.m. Eastern on Wednesday to sing carols. Mahoney is encouraging other area advocates for life to join him.