In July we shared news that the smoke detector issue in Eau Claire County, Wisconsin had been resolved.
Amish who did not wish to install smoke detectors were given the option of applying for a religious waiver, which also covered plumbing requirements.
The exemption was signed into law by the governor in mid-July, and it seemed that the dispute, which had gone on for a number of years, had been wrapped up for good.
But apparently, officials at the county level do not want to go along with the exemption, and have sought to deny an Amishman’s recent request for a waiver.
The county’s action to recommend denial of John Yoder’s waiver application has been met with a strong community response. Over 1,300 signatures in support of the Amish have been collected–in an effort dating back to March–and were presented at Tuesday evening’s board meeting.
I recently received a press release which contained the following details and comments from David Mortimer of the National Committee for Amish Religious Freedom:
Two County departments marked Mr. Yoder’s request with “Recommended for Denial” because they believe the religious waiver could create a health and safety hazard by not having smoke alarms, carbon monoxide detectors and modern plumbing. Because it was not approved by the county, the waiver request must now be reviewed by the Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services (DSPS).
“It’s stunning that the County’s Department of Planning and Development and Health Department have refused to grant a religious waiver to Mr. Yoder, even after it has been enacted into law,” said David Mortimer, Member, National Committee for Amish Religious Freedom, Eau Claire Chapter. “This means that every future Amish religious waiver request in our county will also be refused for the same reasons. Unless DSPS overrules the decision, the County will soon be back to its business of imposing court dates, six-figure fines, evictions and even threatened arrest of Amish families.”
Clearly someone or someone(s) at the county level feel the Amish should not be permitted to evade building codes, and are thus attempting to thwart the state-level exemption.
Will this have a real impact, or end up no more than a symbolic action? Either way, it’s obviously not what John Yoder and others in his community were hoping for.
Mortimer also raises concerns that Yoder’s attempt to construct his home has now been delayed with winter approaching.
That may be a bit overblown as well, as it’s doubtful anyone is going to freeze in the Amish community, but at the least it’s an unexpected inconvenience, following the statewide change to the law.
This community has seen its share of turmoil recently, with drive-by shootings of Amish homes and a school in the settlement occurring earlier this month.