Officials: Church Bells Will Toll Despite Atheists' Demand

Local officials vow that the bells of a Baptist church will continue to peal above the complaints of atheists.
( [email protected] ) Dec 12, 2006 01:27 PM EST

GRISWOLD, Conn. (AP) - Local officials vow that the bells of a Baptist church will continue to peal above the complaints of atheists.

A sound system owned by the borough of Jewett City and the town of Griswold and housed in a church has prompted the Connecticut chapter of American Atheists Inc. to demand that the governments cut their ties with the bells. The group also wants the volume turned down.

More than 75 residents pushed back Monday, demanding that the borough's Board of Warden and Burgesses not silence the sound system that plays the chimes heard throughout the area.

Some officials say that barring a court order or legal advice to the contrary, the bells will continue to sound.

"The bells will continue to toll until they stop us," Borough Warden Cynthia Kata said.

Burgess Patrick Sullivan was defiant.

"The borough is not gonna run," he said. "We're here, and we're gonna fight."

Dennis Paul Himes, director of the Connecticut atheists chapter and William Russell, a chapter member and a Norwich resident who initially complained about the chimes, did not attend Monday's meeting. They said they were not invited, though Kata disputed the claim.

Himes said Monday that the borough and the town should sell the sound equipment to the church or a private organization. Municipal involvement with the bells violates the separation of church and state and that the arrangement permits the church to benefit from government property, he said.

Atheists have on occasion sued over such issues as the dispute in Griswold but that the group's resources are limited and chooses its legal battles carefully, Himes said.

Russell said if the town and borough refuse to sell the sound system or move it to a secular site, he will "take the issue to wherever and whoever I have to."

"If you read your Constitution, government is not supposed to promote any religion," he said. "What are the bells in the Baptist Church doing? Promoting religion."

If a lawsuit ensues, several residents and businesses say they will buy the equipment and donate it to the church.

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