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Do church bells violate human rights? …Austrian thinks so

By Rick Noak

Austrian architect Wolfgang Lassy says he hasn’t been able to get a good night’s rest for years, with the Catholic Church waking him up every 15 minutes.

That’s because for hundreds of years, the church bells of Linz were allowed to chime at night every quarter of an hour, disrupting many residents’ sleep. Now, Lassy is seeking to end the centuries-old practice. The Austrian has sued the Catholic Church in Linz and has even expressed his deep discontent in a letter to Pope Francis. So far, he hasn’t heard back from the Holy See.

“Lassy has been unable to sleep at night for years because the church bells chimed exactly 222 times every night with a volume of 75 decibels,” Lassy’s lawyer, Wolfgang List, told The Washington Post on Thursday. His client lives only about 250 feet away from the Mariendom cathedral, which houses the bells.

According to his lawyer, Lassy had tried to resolve the problem for two years before he decided to take his concerns to court last December. When it became clear that the local church representatives would not simply stop the bells without a holy or judicial order to do so, Lassy sent a letter to the pope Feb. 4.

Saying that a lawsuit was not their preferred way of dealing with the problem, List wrote: “The chiming of the bells has no religious background, but it causes massive sleeping disorders for the neighbors of the Mariendom in Linz, with significant repercussions for their health, such as states of exhaustion.”

“The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg has declared a night’s rest a human right,” the letter to the Holy Father goes on. “We therefore beseech you, Holy Father, to intervene … to ensure that human right of the people of Linz to a healthy and refreshing night’s sleep is respected and that the bells no longer chime at night.” The European Convention on Human Rights does in fact prohibit sleep deprivation, arguing that a violation of this rule can constitute an act of torture.

The letter to the pope does not use the word torture. Instead, its senders address more subtle problems in the interaction between Austrians and representatives of the church. “We hope that you, Holy Father, can be a role model for the Catholic Church in Austria by being more connected to the needs and problems of ordinary [believers],” the document continues.

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