A case that we’ve followed for some time now reached another point in its journey through the court system. On Monday a Minnesota Court of Appeals upheld the original decision. The article in the Post Bulletin summarizes recent events in the matter:

The Minnesota Court of Appeals upheld a ruling Monday that would require four Fillmore County Amish families to install subsurface sewage treatment systems despite religious objections.

Ammon Swartzentruber, Menno Mast, Amos Mast and Sam Miller filed suit in April 2017 against the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and Fillmore County over concerns that the agency and county were requiring them to install a wastewater system for gray water.

Judge Joseph Chase ruled in April 2019 that the men were not exempt from county and Minnesota Pollution Control Agency requirements that rural residences have subsurface sewage systems for disposing of residential wastewater. Chase found that the four men had sincerely held religious beliefs, and the government’s regulation to install a septic system was burdensome on the exercise of those beliefs.

Following that ruling, the men filed a motion asking Chase to amend his ruling or grant them a new trial in the yearslong struggle over residential wastewater disposal regulations. That motion was denied, and the case was appealed to the Minnesota Court of Appeals.

In this appeal, it sounds like the court agreed in part, but cited a compelling interest regarding public health and the environment:

In the appeal to the high court, the men argued that the district court erred by denying their claims that mandating the installation of the septic systems violated their freedom of conscience under the Minnesota Constitution and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act.

While the district court ruled that installing the septic systems would be burdensome on the exercise of their religious beliefs, the government has a compelling interest in protecting human health and the environment, and there was no less-restrictive means.

The Amishmen would like to use an alternative mulch basin system, but the court deemed it insufficient based on the evidence it was provided.

The men’s attorney Brian Lipford says that the next step will likely be appealing the case to the Minnesota Supreme Court.

For those interested in more information, expert witness Karen Johnson-Weiner discussed the case and the nuances surrounding it in a 2019 post.


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