Despite Statewide Exemption, Wisconsin County Denies Amish Building Code Waiver

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.

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    1. Slightly-Handled-Order-Man

      This morning I can relate to the Amish objection to detectors and alarms in their homes to a degree.
      The man who owns the building I rent in was yesterday onsite inspecting/replacing smoke detectors and installing brand new carbon monoxide detectors.
      Good for him for following either new municipal or provincal laws (for carbon monoxide detectors) despite begrudgingly do so, “well, Shom, its the law, [quietly grumbles], so I have to”.
      I am irked by the mandate, not that it is a religious objection, for me, using the building owner’s choice in product adds another light in my space this time in my bedroom which will be on all the time and certainly does not put me in pitch darkness while trying to sleep.
      I think my only recorse to this is to somehow put a light towel over the green ight, or see if I can find some other thing that might block the light.

      I have a friend who works at an reproduction and semi antique store who might have something. Uggh!
      For me I am all for safety and all, but man…

      [thanks for listening you guys]

      1. Margaret

        i hear ya!

        SHOM I definitely hear ya! I have power strips that sets off so much light. I had to block with duct tape. But I had to do that on multiple electric devices! Duct tapes great! On another note Comcast use to send out its messages at early morning hours east coast time. Invariably it would wake me up in the middle night. Finally Comcast listened and they don’t do that anymore.

        If someone is not following state law I don’t know how the Amish feel about going to the Supreme Court both on State and Federal level but it seems like someone’s got a bug crawling in an uncomfortable area. They may need some redress. Not much different than Kim Davis if you think about it.

    2. Jeff Baker

      put tape over light

      Try putting a small piece of duct tape or 2-3 pieces of blue painter’s tape over the light without covering the air inlets of the device.

    3. Amy Laura


      As a Wisconsin resident, all I can say is that I am happy with the state for what the state has done, but terribly disappointed with the county for not granting the exemption. While this family may not freeze, I believe that it is more than an inconvenience. Here is a family who more than likely is working hard to make a living and a home for their family, and the county is making it hard for them. We (as a country) like to shout about people who won’t work hard and want to live off welfare, etc. Here we have a family doing the exact opposite, and the government is making it difficult for them. Shame on them!

    4. County Denies Amish building code waiver

      If one county clerk in KS goes to jail for refusing to comply with the law, then the clerks in Wisconsin need to be jailed also. It is not the clerks job to refuse compliance with state law because they have a bee in their bonnet about the Amish. These clerks are treading on these people’s religious freedoms. They either allow the waiver or; get fired, or go to jail.

      p.s. I am writing a book about NOT joining the Amish. I need people willing to be interviewed to contact me.
      I’m looking for stories from people who want to join an Amish community, and from those who tried but it did not work out for them.
      Please contact me at;
      Thank you!

    5. Alice Mary

      Electrical tape–black–works, too, and should block ALL the light.

      No wonder so many of us can’t sleep at night—glowing clocks, smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, microwaves, etc. They tell us to turn off lights or not to sit in front of “screens” for at least an hour before bedtime, but virtually everything electrical includes a light of some sort (“on” light on my coffeemaker is one I forgot). Most of us (even in distant suburbs) have trouble seeing the stars at night due to all the light pollution outside. I’m sure that if we could truly turn off a lot of these lights (at least inside our own homes), we’d get a decent night’s sleep (and not be as surly when we’re “fully” awake!)

      If nothing else, we should be more like thew Amish (minimal lighting of most kinds). I am on the side of the Amish in Wisconsin in this instance and would LOVE to know what the REAL reason is that they’re being denied the waiver. Religious discrimination, perhaps? Or did someone not get a good night’s sleep?

      Alice Mary