RELIGION

Trial begins in Rhode Island in bitter fight over control of oldest synagogue in United States

  • In this Thursday, May 28, 2015 photo Touro Synagogue, the nation's oldest, is seen from the "ladies gallery" in Newport, R.I. Women attend synagogue seated on the second floor while men take their places on the ground floor. A federal judge has allowed the state of Rhode Island to intervene in a fight over the future of the synagogue by a lawsuit, due for trial Monday, June 1, which pits the nation's first Jewish congregation in New York City against the congregation that worships at the 250-year-old Touro Synagogue.  (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)

    In this Thursday, May 28, 2015 photo Touro Synagogue, the nation's oldest, is seen from the "ladies gallery" in Newport, R.I. Women attend synagogue seated on the second floor while men take their places on the ground floor. A federal judge has allowed the state of Rhode Island to intervene in a fight over the future of the synagogue by a lawsuit, due for trial Monday, June 1, which pits the nation's first Jewish congregation in New York City against the congregation that worships at the 250-year-old Touro Synagogue. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)  (The Associated Press)

  • Ceremonial bells belonging to the 250-year-old Touro Synagogue in Newport, R.I., and worth more than $7 million are seen on display at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Monday, June 1, 2015. The fate of the bells and the nation's oldest synagogue to which they belong is in the hands of a Rhode Island court which will decide on a dispute between the congregation that currently worships at the Touro Synagogue and the nation's first Jewish congregation, Shearith Israel, of New York. The disagreement began over the proposed sale to a museum of ceremonial bells for $7.4 million and has become a bitter dispute over who is in charge of the 250-year-old Touro Synagogue in Newport. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)

    Ceremonial bells belonging to the 250-year-old Touro Synagogue in Newport, R.I., and worth more than $7 million are seen on display at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Monday, June 1, 2015. The fate of the bells and the nation's oldest synagogue to which they belong is in the hands of a Rhode Island court which will decide on a dispute between the congregation that currently worships at the Touro Synagogue and the nation's first Jewish congregation, Shearith Israel, of New York. The disagreement began over the proposed sale to a museum of ceremonial bells for $7.4 million and has become a bitter dispute over who is in charge of the 250-year-old Touro Synagogue in Newport. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)  (The Associated Press)

  • In this Thursday, May 28, 2015 photo, a room off the second floor "ladies gallery" is seen at the Touro Synagogue, the nation's oldest, in Newport, R.I. Women attend synagogue seated on the second floor while men take their places on the ground floor.  A federal judge has allowed the state of Rhode Island to intervene in a fight over the future of the synagogue by a lawsuit, due for trial Monday, June 1, which pits the nation's first Jewish congregation in New York City against the congregation that worships at the 250-year-old Touro Synagogue. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)

    In this Thursday, May 28, 2015 photo, a room off the second floor "ladies gallery" is seen at the Touro Synagogue, the nation's oldest, in Newport, R.I. Women attend synagogue seated on the second floor while men take their places on the ground floor. A federal judge has allowed the state of Rhode Island to intervene in a fight over the future of the synagogue by a lawsuit, due for trial Monday, June 1, which pits the nation's first Jewish congregation in New York City against the congregation that worships at the 250-year-old Touro Synagogue. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)  (The Associated Press)

Trial has begun in Rhode Island in a bitter fight over control of the oldest synagogue in the United States.

U.S. District Judge Joh McConnell said Monday that the court is resolving a civil, not religious, dispute and to do otherwise would violate the First Amendment.

The dispute is between the congregation that worships in the 250-year-old Touro Synagogue in Newport and the nation's first Jewish congregation, Shearith Israel, of New York.

Shearith Israel owns the synagogue. The Newport congregation says Shearith Israel is a trustee and breached its duties.

The New York congregation is trying to stop Newport from selling ceremonial bells worth more than $7 million to a museum.

The Newport congregation says it's in financial straits and wants to sell them to create an endowment.