Noise from mosque in residential area

by Mila
(Bronx, NY)

Visitor Question: Hello.

I have been a resident of a six-story building for 20 years. A month ago the private two-story house in between our three buildings was bought. Now they have made it into a mosque, and they are praying in loudspeakers 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. This is 15 feet from my bedroom window. This happens at midnight, then again at 4 am. And I am working. Even with closed windows I hear non-stop arabic prayers, and the high beam projectors are running the whole night straight to my bedroom.

I have a two-year lease.

I do NOT WANT to live anyone's life but mine and I do have my freedom of religion. Why should be my daughter and me be 24/7 zombied by whomever House of Worship inside a residential area, 15 feet from my bed?

Is there any law? I called 311; they had zero help.

Thank you for the answer.

Editors Reply: For our site visitors from outside of New York City, we should say that 311 is a phone number that reaches a general complaint or comment line for the City of New York. Other places have a similar service, although the digits may differ.

You may be aware that most courts give places of worship special status in terms of land use regulations. Then in 2000 Congress passed a Religious Land Uses and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) that some people interpreted as giving religious institutions even more latitude. We would argue though that RLUIPA is just about discriminating against one type of religion rather than telling cities they cannot regulate religious land uses at all. See our church zoning page for more on this topic.

We are somewhat surprised that the 311 call didn't turn up any good ideas for you. So now you will need to work with someone else in the city government, and probably that would be your city councilperson. Call that person, and explain the situation carefully and politely. Be certain not to express your opposition in terms of any particular religious practice, but just emphasize your need for peace and quiet, especially at night.

Ask the councilperson to come by your residence when one of the prayers will be occurring. If the councilperson will not do this, then make a recording, being sure to have some noise on the recording that would allow the councilperson to estimate relative loudness, and take the recording to him or her.

Tell your councilperson that you did not get any help from 311, not in an overly complaining way but just in an informational way. Ask if there is a general city noise ordinance and if so, how it is enforced. Find out if the mosque had to have any kind of zoning permit or special use permit. If so, find out the terms of those permits. Ask for an inspector to come check compliance with any permits.

Frankly, we cannot imagine any place of worship getting by permanently with broadcasting actual prayers or services beyond its property limits. We often hear complaints from neighborhoods about church bells and about the calls to prayer from mosques, but it is much more rare to hear that noise for several minutes is being broadcast over a neighborhood. It isn't totally unheard of, though, for mosques to use loudspeakers to broadcast sermons.

Places as far-ranging as Israel, Michigan, and Western Europe have limited the use of loudspeakers at mosques. Ask your city councilperson if he or she would be willing to explore prohibiting loudspeaker use for any purpose by any group, religious or non-religious, during certain hours. As a fallback position, at least try to get the loudspeaker use confined to a call to prayer, which is a much shorter burst of sleep-disturbing sound than what it seems you are experiencing now.

Lastly, you should band together with your neighbors to make this fight. If you live in a six-story building, you have plenty of neighbors, so start knocking on doors, leaving notes on doors, and so forth. You will have a much better chance of success if you line up allies right away.

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