Amish have trouble with government rules

April 21, 2011 at 2:04 PM
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EBENSBURG, Pa., April 21 (UPI) -- Sewage permits and smoke-detector laws are among the religious-freedom disputes between U.S. Amish Mennonites and state and local governments, USA Today says.

A judge in Cambria, County, Pa., 65 miles east of Pittsburgh, two years ago ordered two homes and a schoolhouse padlocked until their Amish owners complied with state rules requiring building and sewage permits, the newspaper says.

Outhouses were illegally emptied onto fields, prompting complaints.

"Religious rights don't allow you the right to pollute somebody's water supply," Sewage Enforcement Officer Deborah Sedlmeyer tells the newspaper.

The non-profit Becket Fund for Religious Liberty sued Middletown, N.Y., on behalf of 12 Amish residents who said their religious rights were violated by building codes requiring smoke detectors, certain window sizes and specific types of lumber.

"With the Amish, the question is always: 'Why would I use this? Why would I change?'" Becket Fund senior counsel Lori Windham tells the newspaper. "They believe that if it's not necessary, it's a violation of God's law to do it."

The Amish don't consider themselves outside the law, "but they have their own rules, which vary in each community," Anabaptist scholar Donald Kraybill, a professor at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania's Lancaster County, tells USA Today.

Amish Mennonites are a Christian church or constituency of Anabaptist heritage. Anabaptists are Protestant Christians of 16th century Europe's Radical Reformation.

"The more traditional the [Amish] group, the more likely some kind of friction is [with government]," Kraybill says.

Their view is, "We would just like the government not to interfere with our religious practice," he says.

The Amish are known for simple living, plain dress and reluctance to adopt modern technology.

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