Vermont church bell dispute: AP chimes in but fails to produce 'joyful noise'

NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) disputes don't often make national news.

But in Vermont, a tussle over church bells — or at least the sound of them — drew the attention of The Associated Press:

The lede of the AP story, published earlier this month:

BURLINGTON, Vt. (AP) — The sound system next door is making it hard for Olga Lopatina to love thy neighbor: Christ the King church.
Since last summer, the church has been broadcasting the sounds of bells and hymns to its Burlington neighborhood, a joyful noise unto the Lord that some here think is just an unholy racket.
It's not just the volume, but the timing and type of tune that irks Lopatina, who said she loves the natural sound of bells after growing up in Ukraine.
"It's not really music," she complained of the hymns as she stood in her backyard one recent evening after yet another unwelcome serenade. "This one, it sounds like a teenage iPhone recording, like the first generation ring tones that you pay 99 cents."
The dispute has fueled online jokes — some that posters felt were disrespectful of their faith —and complaints that the bells violate Burlington's noise ordinance. A meeting with a mediator was scheduled for March but was postponed until May 18.

From the start, it's difficult to tell whether this is a battle over noise or religion — or both.

Repeatedly, AP rings the religion bell — starting with the reference to online jokes deemed "disrespectful." But the story never quotes an actual person making that claim.

After setting the scene, AP opines:

It is perhaps not surprising the tolling of the electronic bells has struck a chord with some neighbors in the largest city in Vermont, a state deemed the least religious in the nation by a Gallup Poll last year.
Larry Miller said not only is the noise intrusive but he finds it offensive from a religious perspective. "It's not my religion," he said.

So what is Miller's religion? Why does he find the noise "offensive from a religious perspective?"

Alas, such questions go unanswered. AP doesn't bother to put any flesh on Miller's skeleton of a quote.

On the flip side, the story quotes a man who has no problem with the noise:

David Workman, a parishioner whose daughter attends the school, said as a Roman Catholic the ringing of bells and playing of hymns "are religiously significant."

OK, but how are they "religiously significant?"

Again, AP sticks to vague material and provides no real context. Of course, church officials' refusal to comment only adds to the thin nature of the reporting.

Later, the story circles back to the religion angle:

Last year's Gallup Poll showed that 22 percent of Vermonters identified themselves as "very religious" and 56 percent as "non-religious," based on more than 500 interviews done in 2013. By comparison, the poll average showed that about 41 percent of Americans identified themselves as very religious.

But again, AP fails to connect the dots: What real evidence is there that folks in a Bible Belt state such as Oklahoma or Tennessee would be more thrilled by this noise than Vermonters?

Is this really a holy war? Or is it an ordinary NIMBY fight? After reading this story, I have no idea.

Church bells image via

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