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Noise restriction in San Fran. sparks youth ministry protest

SAN FRANCISCO (BP)–A Christian youth organization is alleging that San Francisco city officials again are trying to derail plans for a massive youth rally in the city March 9-10.

The city, according to a news release from TeenMania and its founder Ron Luce, has issued a “last-minute noise ordinance restricting any use of our sound system until 10 a.m.”

For a small event, that might not be problematic. But Luce is leading more than 25,000 youth in a self-styled “reverse rebellion” against immoral culture. The event, titled “BattleCry,” will be held at AT&T Park, home of the San Francisco Giants. Its morning worship session begins at 8 a.m. Saturday.

The ordinance “means that there can be no amplification of the worship band, no way for teens or anyone to hear and be led in prayer and worship,” Luce said in the news release. “This ordinance is directed specifically at our teenagers and our event this weekend,” he asserted. “We don’t know the motivation of the city, but we can’t let the voices of 25,000 teenagers in worship to God be silenced.”

A San Francisco city ordinance from 2002 bans amplified sound at all outdoor events before 9 a.m., but a city official told Baptist Press in an interview that the city received complaints about early morning noise after last year’s Battlecry and other early morning events.

“The commission does have some discretion as allowed by code and they were exercising that discretion by conditioning the permit to a later start time based on complaints that had been received from the previous year when the event did start earlier,” Robert Davis, director of San Francisco’s Entertainment Commission, said. “It would be the same with Rolling Stones or an all-day rock ‘n’ roll event.”

Luce, in an interview with Baptist Press, said his organization was not notified about noise complaints from last year’s event.

“We’ve had pages of correspondence with the city and nothing was said about last year and nothing was said about this new restriction,” Luce said. “The young people feel it isn’t fair. Shouldn’t the city be glad that there will be a stadium full of young people worshiping God and talking about virtue? “There was no red carpet for us last year,” Luce continued. “As for whether or not it was intentional, you certainly could interpret it as intentional. So we’re left with an interpretation of their actions. What happens in San Francisco creeps across the country. We should be raising red flags and drawing attention to this.”

Last year, BattleCry’s emphasis on moral living prompted the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to issue a resolution condemning the “right-wing Christian fundamentalist group” for bringing their “anti-gay and anti-choice agenda of intolerance” to the city. The resolution condemned the youth event — and a related teen rally on the steps of San Francisco’s City Hall — for aiming to “negatively influence the politics of America’s most tolerant and progressive city.”

Democratic Assemblyman Mark Leno was quoted last year in the San Francisco Chronicle as saying that the Christian teens were feeding hate under a “cloak of love.” The teens, he said, were loud, obnoxious and disgusting, “and they should get out of San Francisco.”

But reaction in the San Francisco Chronicle and other news outlets revealed embarrassment on the part of many San Franciscans for the way the Christian youth had been received, Luce said. “The secular press really came out for us last year,” he said. “They said, ‘We claim to be America’s most tolerant city and we can’t tolerate 25,000 Christian young people and their faith.’”

The city’s mayor, Gavin Newsom, known nationally for bucking his state’s constitution and authorizing same-sex marriages in San Francisco, also contacted the organization last year to apologize for the way the city’s supervisors had responded to the event, Luce said. But Luce said the real apology was owed to the 25,000 students who participated in the event last year.

Luce said Newsom was invited to this year’s event to welcome the youth to his city. In a call to the mayor’s office, however, Baptist Press confirmed that Newsom was not planning to attend the BattleCry event.

Luce said that BattleCry organizers will “honor the law and lawmakers” and not use amplified sound before 10 a.m. But he also said organizers have found a way around the noise restriction. A local AM radio station, KFAX 1100, will broadcast a special morning worship service from the stage at the event. Youth have been encouraged to bring radios, and conference organizers also will provide radios at the ballpark’s gates.

“We will have 25,000 teenagers raising their voices in prayer and worship, listening to the sounds from their radios we’re asking them to bring,” Luce said. “But they won’t hear anything from the sound system until after 10 a.m. I don’t know that any similar restriction has been placed on a Christian worship service anywhere in the country.”

Davis, of the San Francisco Entertainment Commission, said the decision to issue the noise abatement ruling wasn’t “political or onerous in any way.”

“We are an administrative department and there is nothing political to what we do,” Davis said. “In my statement before the commission I was clear that last year they were very cooperative. The only issue we had was some complaints about noise early in the morning. We were not trying to impose anything onerous, as that would put the group at a disadvantage, and we try to condition the permits so they work for all parties involved.”

Davis said there has been no dialogue between the city and Luce’s group, voicing surprise to see the organization’s press release about the noise restriction. “We restricted two hours over the span of 20 hours of use, and it’s unfortunate that it’s left such a bad taste. We want to work with them,” Davis said.

Luce said he isn’t certain whether there will be a third Battlecry event in San Francisco. After facing what he perceives as opposition for a second consecutive year, he said TeenMania is only “considering going back.”

“We haven’t made that decision yet,” Luce said.

Luce, who is originally from the San Francisco Bay area, founded TeenMania to “rescue youth” from the dangers of modern society, such as abortion, drug addiction, sexual immorality and suicide. Now headquartered in Garden Valley, Texas, the organization has a 470-acre facility with 720 students in its “Honor Academy,” a one-year program that focuses on discipleship and moral living.
BattleCry events are scheduled at Detroit’s Ford Field April 13-14 and at Baltimore’s M&T Bank Stadium May 11-12. For more information, log onto www.battlecry.com.

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  • Gregory Tomlin