Four Swartzentruber Amishmen took the unusual step of filing a lawsuit in 2017 against a Minnesota agency, over objections to wastewater requirements. Their trial began last week (article no longer online):
PRESTON — For the last week, four members of the Swartzentruber Amish community have listened to arguments on whether their religious beliefs would allow them to not comply with state wastewater regulations.
Four men, Ammon Swartzentruber, Menno Mast, Ammo Mast and Sam Miller, filed a suit in April 2017 against the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and Fillmore County over concerns that an ongoing effort by the state agency and the county to require them to install a wastewater system for graywater would go against their religious faith.
“If they comply with this policy, they will have to answer for this utilization of wastewater systems at the Day of Judgement,” attorney Brian Lipford wrote in the initial complaint for the four men.
As a commenter notes, the article doesn’t especially elaborate upon the nature of the religious objections of the Amishmen to the wastewater system. This may come down to the argument that the Amish feel the technology itself is simply objectionable for some reason. Religious arguments might be the best way to advance a case in a court of law, regardless whether that objection is ensconced in true religious conviction, or rather stems from an ingrained cultural resistance to change – especially change imposed from outside.
Here’s a summary of the timeline of the case, via postbulletin.com:
The contention can be traced back to March 2006, when the Fillmore County Zoning Office performed a compliance inspection on the homes as part of a countywide “Imminent Public Health Threat Inventory.”
The issue was brought back to the forefront in 2013. Minnesota passed a law requiring counties to create and enact local ordinances that comply with changes to the MPCA’s sewage treatment system within two years. All homes were to have a holding tank for wastewater, the size of which is determined by the number of bedrooms in the home.
The Fillmore County ordinance provided “alternative local standards” for their Amish community. Amish households are required to have a 1,000 gallon tank regardless of bedroom size.
Amish homeowners refused to make the mandated changes and the case was referred to the MPCA in August 2015.
In November 2017, the MCPA sent an administrative penalty order that ordered the Amish to make the necessary updates or appeal within 30 days. Members of the community again declined to make the changes and did not appeal within 30 days. A $1,000 fine was imposed in February 2016.
Amish in certain places have put their feet down when a government requirement attempts to force adoption of a practice or device which goes against their Ordnung or just their sense of staying within their tried and true ways. You saw this in the objections over smoke detectors which played out in New York and Wisconsin. Amish in Hardin County, Ohio were long embroiled in controversy over outhouses and waste disposal. In January, a Pennsylvania Amish family lost a court battle over connecting to an electric-powered municipal sewer system.
It usually doesn’t go to the level of the Amish initiating a lawsuit. But apparently the Amish in questions saw that as the lesser of the two evils. Amish in theory (and in practice, for the most part) do not file lawsuits as they see them as violating their stance of non-resistance.
So why take that monumental step of filing a lawsuit? Perhaps the Amish here fear that if they give in on one item, then more change and gradual erosion of their way of life, communities and churches is sure to follow. Perhaps they resent being told to change by outsiders. Perhaps the new system makes no sense to them. Perhaps it’s a mix of many things.
I’ve just returned from a diverse Amish community with many different types of Amish. While there I was reminded how some higher Amish can sometimes look down upon Swartzentruber Amish for what observers might deem stubbornness and resistance to change. At the same time, that resistance may one day be looked back upon with admiration especially given the pace of change happening in other Amish groups.