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Church bells must cut back at night in Swiss town

Published on August 09, 2016

To some, church bells ringing are a sound of Switzerland. To others, they’re a loud noise that keeps them up at night. Now a local Swiss court has ruled that a certain church’s bells can’t ring every 15 minutes through the night.

A couple who live in the town of Wädenswil, near Zurich, lodged a complaint about the bells at their local church ringing every 15 minutes through the night. The case went to court, which decided in the couple’s favour, but the town and the church parish appealed, leading to this second ruling, again, in favour of the couple.

The town and church argued that the ringing of bells every 15 minutes was an important tradition. The court however concluded that ringing the bells once an hour was enough to uphold the tradition. The bells can go back to their full service between 7am and 10pm every day.

The couple live 200 metres away from the Protestant church in Wädenswil, and said they couldn’t sleep at night because of the noise. The court agreed that their right to some quiet time at night was more important than fully upholding tradition.

How loud is too loud?

The case was supported by research on acceptable noise levels by the Federal Institute of Technology ETH Zurich, which showed that noise at a level of 40-45 decibels can be disruptive. The previous standard was 60 decibels.

A test inside the couple’s home showed that noise reached a level of 48 decibels when the windows were slightly ajar.

It’s the first time the ETH Zurich’s research has been used in such a case, meaning it could have consequences for similar situations in canton Zurich in the future.

A spokesperson for the Protestant church in the city of Zurich, Karin Müller, told Swiss Public Radio, SRF, “It has set a precedent. Many people who feel that their night’s sleep is disturbed by church bells ringing will now also be able to try and take legal action against the church.”

swissinfo.ch and agencies