Adams County: Amish Must Connect To Sewer System. Amish Respond With Lawsuit

Adams County, Indiana wants to build a municipal sewer system in a certain area of the county. And it wants Amish living in that area to “get with the program” and connect to the electrically-powered system.

The Amish side attempted to reach a compromise first but were denied. Here’s the gist of the problem from an article at wane.com:

The Adams County Regional Sewer District wants to build a municipal sewer system for certain homeowners in the Pleasant Mills area along U.S. 33 in the county. According to the lawsuit the sewer district informed several Amish families that each homeowner must connect to the sewer system. The district also requires that affected homeowners must provide an easement for free to the district to place a grinder pump and other components.

The Amish don’t want to do this. Lawyer for the Amish Richard W. Schulte said that despite their attempt, they could not find middle ground:

“We attempted to reach a settlement with the county,” Schulte said. “In regards to the sewer system and hooking up and using electric pumps the county said there is no way to compromise. They are not offering accommodation for their core religious beliefs whatsoever.”

And:

“The case is about an infringement by the government of the Amish, core religious belief,” said Attorney Richard W. Schulte. “[Adams County] was forcing the Amish to hook up to a sewer system and, as you know, they don’t believe in using electricity due to religious beliefs.”

In a nutshell, the Amish are arguing that this is a violation of religious freedom, while the county is making a safety argument. The statement of the county in part:

The Adams County Regional Sewer District takes very seriously its obligation to provide our citizens with access to safe drinking water, sewer systems, and solid waste disposal. We also have the highest regard for our citizens’ right to religious liberty. However, our legal and ethical mandate is to ensure the safety of all our citizens and their collective well-being.

The Adams County Amish settlement is the fifth-largest in the nation. Amish have lived in this area for the better part of two centuries (1840). It’s unclear how many Amish families are affected by the county’s demand. Amish in this settlement traditionally use outhouses.

Amish increasingly open to filing lawsuits?

This is the latest in a small but growing number of lawsuits filed by Amish in recent years. In a similar case involving an electric sewer requirement, a Pennsylvania Amish family brought legal action but lost that suit in 2018 following a five-year battle. In 2019 an Amishman in New York sued, challenging vaccination requirements affecting students in Amish schools. In 2018 an Amish couple sued over a photo requirement for citizenship. And there is of course the four Minnesota Amishmen involved in a long-running “gray water” disposal dispute who recently asked the Supreme Court to hear their case.

Traditionally at least, the Amish do not file lawsuits. Using legal force in the form of a lawsuit has been seen as incompatible with the core tenet of non-resistance. However we are seeing examples lately further suggesting that this custom is not ironclad, and is perhaps eroding.

In most of these cases, it appears the Amish come out on the losing side. But having pending legal action and outstanding appeals can prolong the status quo for years. So legal action may be being used as a stalling tactic, in at least some of these cases.

It will be interesting to see if Amish-initiated lawsuits become more common in the years to come. Will Amish grow more comfortable with legal action – in cases when their way of life conflicts with demands of the state, and compromise cannot be reached?

Adams County Amish images: S.I.

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    20 Comments

    1. Joni

      So what do these people do with their waste? Specifically, what are they doing with their sewage? I’m sure they’re not just pooping in the fields, right?

      1. JH

        As the article stated, they use outhouses.

        1. Joni

          So no, their waste goes into a hole in the ground. Over and into the groundwater.

        2. Forcing "English" mores on the Amish

          How do you connect an outhouse to the sewage system?

          1. Sewage disposal is not my strong suit but I just assumed the county wants to disappear any outhouses in question. But maybe there is some technical solution I don’t understand there (and frankly, am not too keen to think about :)) Here is one bit from the original article that led me to my assumption:

            “…attorneys with the Amish families state that the Adams County government wants the Amish to conform to the rest of the community in regard to wastewater and plumbing.”

            1. Joni

              unfortunately....

              Hi Eric,
              I want to thank you for sharing your website with me. I have many Amish neighbors nearby, and really learned a lot from you about their ways through your sharing.

              Regrettably after reading the frighteningly threatening comment from mr.daniel Bradley Gadd above, I feel I must unsubscribe.

              Thank you for your hospitality

              Joni

              1. Well I’m sorry to see you go. The downside of a website allowing comments is that sometimes offensive ones get posted as well.

                I just removed it. Sometimes they get past me. The last two weeks have been especially hectic for various reasons, so I was not monitoring comments as stringently as in normal times.

                Anyway, be well 🙂

    2. Adams County Amish Must Connect to Sewer System: Amish Respond with Lawsuit

      I’ve lived in a rural community with a septic system & well water for 30 years. We’ve had the “connect to city sewer & water” debate on & off over the years, & our consensus has been that we prefer being off the city/county water & sewer grid. Most of us also prefer to live on dirt roads rather than paved. Our community is about 5 square miles, with the average homes being on 1 1/4-5 acres.
      Aside from financial gains for the county involved, I can see no reason whatsoever to force the Amish to connect to the county grids. Frankly, it smacks of bullying to me, but that’s just my opinion.

      1. Joni

        Keywords “septic system.” What you use is far removed from human waste deposited directly into groundwater through a hole in the ground.

    3. Adams County Amish Must Connect to Sewer System: Amish Respond with Lawsuit

      Actually, it’s not all that far off. The county doesn’t process our waste at all. While I occasionally add a product to help break down the waste, a septic tank is basically a giant cement tub underground. It does go to our ground water, but so do any fertilizers we choose to use ( I don’t, & keep an organic yard).

    4. Paula

      Amish

      Every animal in the world defacates & urinates on our earth 24/7. That goes into groundwater. In highly populated areas I would think that this is much more of a health issue. So maybe this could be confined to an acreage size?

    5. J.O.B.

      1st of all, the ground naturally filters human/animal waste as it works its way thru the ground. Its done so for millions of years.
      2nd: this is another case of forcing the Amish to assimilate. There is tremendous money gained by companies to install these systems…as well as tax revenue. And when installed, these systems make the property value go up, as well as the taxes(more revenue for gov’t) the Amish have to pay.
      The land some Amish sit on is a good mine. The county knows it but can’t access it until the Amish are pushed out and developers can move in. Developers have plans for the land 20-30 years into the future. They know what they are doing. Its one small step at a time and often they use lines such as “its for your safety.”

      1. Adams County Amish Must Connect to Sewer System: Amish Respond with Lawsuit

        J.O.B., I agree with your opinion completely. We’ve had similar issues here in our rural community. Taxes are high enough ( some of the highest in the state of FL) & as soon as a rural community hooks into county services their property taxes go further through the roof. We’re also constantly fighting development, specifically “planned communities”. I’ve seen once pristine land w/ crops & animals turned into cookie cutter houses on zero lot lines. God has given us a finite amount of land & resources, & it behooves us to be good stewards, rather than abusing them for financial gain.

        1. J.O.B.

          Yes.
          Here in PA, a major road project was started, then paused, in the 1970s.
          40 years later it was restarted and finished.
          Turns out, the local government was working with developers.
          The long term plan was to buy and develop farms and open space. Build housing, shopping centers, roads, and more. It would take decades to do this.
          Then, with all that development, finish the major road project they started 40 years earlier to handle all this new traffic.
          Point is, they knew what they were doing. Slowly pushing out mom and pop businesses for bigger money making projects. The family that owned a home on 20 acres was pushed out due to higher taxes. That 20 acres is now a gas station and big name stores.
          And yes, money was exchanged to local officials under the table to get zoning laws changed.

    6. Sewer system

      Know ones picking on the Amish everyone has to connect to the sewer system

    7. Adams County Amish Must Connect to Sewer System: Amish Respond with Lawsuit

      Eric,
      I find my self disturbed that you’d allow the comment from Daniel bradey Gadd to remain up here. Such hate speech is scary to say the least, even tho he claims to want to protect the Amish.

      1. Kimberly K Hardie

        Agreement

        I agree. I doubt very seriously that Eric has seen this comment… Surely it will be removed when he does.

        1. I removed it just now. I don’t appreciate the language used in that comment. I am usually more aware of the comments but I wasn’t really monitoring this thread as I usually do. Sorry that it was up for longer than I’d have liked it to be.

    8. L. Gale

      A simple rural compromise suggestion

      Allowing them to install composting toilets might be a peaceable compromise. They have no effect on ground water, and are infinitely simpler and more natural than a system which uses water to flush effluent into yet more water which is then chemically treated for the end result: public drinking water.

    9. Kris

      Most amish in my area purchase a used plastic outhouse,and have this pumped pretty regularly. Due to crawford county,wi. Rules. And they due not mind at all.