Greek priest given suspended sentence for loud bell

Athens, Greece - A Greek Orthodox priest was given a suspended 70-day sentence after residents complained he rang his church bell too loudly and too often, national television reported on Friday.

Residents of a nearby resort town filed a lawsuit against the priest of the Assumption Church on Mount Pelion in Central Greece.

Court-appointed specialists measured the noise, and found that the volume exceeded the maximum permissible level set out by Greek law.

Most of Greece's thousands of Orthodox churches have bell towers controlled electronically, although bells are struck manually in monasteries. Most churches are equipped with audio systems to amplify the sound inside the church and in the courtyard.

Several similar trials have taken place in the country, as many churches are situated in densely populated areas, but the prison term, although suspended, was unprecedented.

The Greek human rights commissioner said the problem is serious and "leads to noise pollution and reduced quality of life, and threatens citizens' health."

In 2005, the country's ombudsman backed two similar lawsuits, and asked the government to take measures to apply noise pollution laws to churches.

A similar case in the Netherlands last year led to a priest in Tilburg, 70 miles south of Amsterdam, being fined around $7,000 each time he rang his church bell after being told to desist following complaints from local residents.