- The Washington Times - Monday, February 26, 2007

A religious group criticized by H Street residents for amplifying their street-corner preaching says members are within their legal rights but would welcome a compromise with neighbors and city officials.

“We’ve kept the law, we’ve obeyed the rules of Washington D.C., and we’ve exercised our religious freedom,” said Yahanna, a regional director for the Israelite School of Universal Practical Knowledge. “If that creates a problem for someone that would like to work with us, we’re more than happy to work with them.”

Residents near the corner of Eighth and H streets in Northeast say the preaching, often diatribes on race and homosexuality, can be heard in their living rooms on many Saturdays.

The complaints about the group and other amplified preachers in the neighborhood have continued for more than a year, prompting a D.C. Council member to propose legislation to resolve the dispute.

Yahanna, who said his group was founded in 1969 in New York City, says members have tried to resolve the issue by lowering the volume and delaying the start of their preaching from morning until midafternoon.

“For that, they turned around and called in sound specialists and called in” the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, he said. “That’s what started the entire controversy.”

Yahanna also said residents in the gentrified area have hired off-duty police officers in uniform to issue the citations.

“They say the issue is sound, but the issue is really our message,” he said. “On that very same corner on other days, there are religious groups that set up speakers four times the size of ours and play gospel music and don’t get complaints.”

DCRA spokeswoman Karyn Siobhan-Robinson confirmed that the agency has cited the group for noise violations three times, resulting in $3,000 in fines.

But Dave Klavitter, a resident leading the effort to lower the volume, said residents have not enlisted off-duty officers to issue citations and suspects that the group has confused DCRA officials with the police.

“Really, we’re on the defensive for anybody advocating for Yahanna and his group to be forced from the corner,” Mr. Klavitter said. “We’re not about that at all.”

Council member Tommy Wells, Ward 6 Democrat, said he plans to introduce legislation next month to resolve the issue, which also involves city labor leaders worried about a noise-law amendment’s limiting their right to protest. However, he did not provide details about the bill.

Yahanna said no council representatives have contacted the group about the possible legislation. A previous attempt by police and city officials to broker a meeting between the parties failed because many group members live far outside the city and were not given enough notice to attend, he said.

Mr. Wells said that if the law passes, he would notify the group that it could be in violation of city code, but he also would be willing to meet before action is taken.

“In the event and when the law changes, I had committed to give them notice beforehand,” Mr. Wells said. “Otherwise, I would love to meet with them.”

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