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For Whom the Bell Tolls

What to do when the sound of church bells is not music to a neighborhood's ears.

Background. Many churches broadcast chimes and carillon music to their neighborhoods through bells in a steeple or electronic equipment. These broadcasts are inspiring and uplifting to many. But some neighbors may find the noise disturbing or even offensive. Do these neighbors have a legal right to stop the music? That was the issue addressed by a New York court.

Facts. A Presbyterian church played hourly chimes and in addition played carillon music at noon and 6 o'clock in the evening. A neighbor asked a court to stop the church from broadcasting the chimes and carillon music on the ground that it was "a complete disruption of her family life, prevents a child from sleeping, invades the privacy of her residence, and creates unnecessary stress." The neighbor claimed that the chimes and music were a "private nuisance."

The court's ruling. The court began its opinion by observing that "what ...

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  • February 1, 1996

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