News came earlier this week that the long-running dispute between Amish and authorities in Morristown, New York, has come to an end. You might remember a post last spring on the Amish smoke alarm issue; if you viewed the PBS documentary The Amish you would have seen this case discussed.
To review, Amish had refused to follow local building codes (updated by the town in 2006), arguing that they conflicted with their religious beliefs. Most memorably, the Amish balked at the installation of household smoke detectors. But they also found other regulations problematic, covering everything from the foundation to the roof. Here’s Karen Johnson-Weiner explaining the smoke alarm issue (taken from the transcript of The Amish film):
Karen M. Johnson-Weiner, Anthropologist: There are a number of aspects of the building code that are problematic. The need for smoke detectors and now carbon monoxide detectors. That’s putting your faith in a manmade device instead of God. What God wants to happen will happen. The Amish are building their homes according to way their Ordnung says they have to build. If, heaven forbid, a fire comes, sweeps through the house and something terrible happens, the child will be in a better place, the people will be in a better place, they’ll be with God. Theirs is not an intellectual faith; it’s a lived faith. In a very real way because everything they do is guided by their Ordnung, by their beliefs. In a way they’re always in church.
Both sides have conceded points in the dispute. Though not on every issue. I found the following bit amusing:
On the thorniest issue — smoke detectors — neither side caved. The town’s code inspector will install detectors before giving homes a final approval, but whether they remain is up to the homeowners, as it is in any home.
Any Morristownians in the market for a smoke detector, barely used? I have a hunch there will be a few soon available (if they don’t land in the junk pile behind the barn first).
As one of the principals in the case pointed out, this resolution means both parties leave satisfied, with no one having to go to jail. That of course is in contrast to what went on in Kentucky in 2011-2012, when numerous Swartzentruber Amish ended up in prison in the dispute over the SMV triangle.
“This is a really good settlement. It means the Amish are not going to jail and they can continue living in Morristown,” Lori Windham, an attorney for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which helped represent the Amish, said Monday in announcing the settlement. “It shows how cities and small religious communities can work together and cooperate to meet everyone’s goals.”
That same sort of cooperation will be needed as Amish settle new areas in the years to come.
Smoke alarm photo: Kendrick Hang/flickr
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