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.