Columbia, SC (WLTX) - A Columbia pastor is serving jail time after his church repeatedly violated the city's noise ordinance.
We've followed this story for close to two years about the dispute between neighbors and Rehoboth United Assemblies Church in Columbia concerning the amount of sound by the house of worship.
This week, a Richland County jury found church pastor Johnnie Clark guilty of unlawful sound amplification following a three-day trial where prosecutors laid out their evidence against him.
Clark was sentenced to two weeks in jail.
Columbia Police officers have been called to the church more than 50 times for noise complaints. Neighbors said the noise coming from the musical equipment could be heard late into the evening and early in the morning, and permeated their home. The neighbors recorded some of the episodes as part of their evidence of the noise.
News19 reached out to one of the neighbors near the church Thursday to comment on the verdict against Clark, but they declined to be interviewed.
The church has paid several of their fines for multiple violations of the city noise ordinance, but after the verdict, Clark must now not only pay money, but spend time behind bars.
"I can't believe it, jail time, for serving God, what's next," said Pastor and First Lady Harriet Clark.
Thursday, for the first time in more than 30 years, Clark had to hold a church service without her husband by her side.
Back in June ,a judge granted an injunction that would prohibit the church from using sound amplifying devices like drums or microphones between 8PM and 8AM. On multiple occasions, officers were called to the church and said that the worship was too loud.
Documents show the church violated that injunction repeatedly.
"They are trying to tell us how not to worship. We have church at 7:30, so what does that mean we only have 30 minutes to worship? " Clark says.
Thomas Borders has been a member of the church for 20 years. "We didn't build the church on the house; the house was built on the church."
Borders believes that their rights are being violated because they can't praise God in their own way. He says the real problem is that the city noise ordinance isn't specific.
"It's up to the neighbors to say if its irritating to them or a nuisance to them. Well you can get a weed eater and go outside and if someone complains nothing will be done, but when it comes to worshiping God its now a problem," said Borders.
The church has owned the property for several years and thinks it's not fair that they are being punished because of the close proximity to their neighbors.
Clark says the only solution is to soundproof the building, which will be very expensive.
"Everyone is just praying that this will be settled but the only way I know is to go through a lot of expenses to sound proof the church."