Several Amish families in Lenawee County, Michigan are facing the possible demolition of their homes and displacement of their families if they fail to comply with the county’s health department’s demands.
In November, the health department posted notices on the homes of 14 Amish families living in Medina and Hudson townships, claiming they are “unfit for human habitation.” The health department is contending the homes are not up to code due to what they claim to be insufficient water and sewer systems.
Not only have notices been posted on these homes but the health department has also filed lawsuits against the families which, if successful, could result in the demolition of these 14 Amish homes.
Lenconnect.com reports that the health department has been receiving complaints since 2015 about how the Amish were disposing of their waste. Court documents state that the county health code is being violated as waste is being discharged on the ground.
One Amish couple told The Daily Telegram earlier this month they dispose of their waste by dumping it on a livestock manure pile. Hall [environmental health director for Lenawee County Health Department] said other Amish families dispose of their waste in similar ways.
The main problem with this method is that the waste is untreated. Michigan public health code does not allow for human waste or gray water — wastewater from bathtubs and sinks — to be disposed of in such a way, Hall said.
In December, the ACLU along with national law firm Wright & Schulte filed answers to the lawsuits on behalf of the Amish families in Lenawee County Circuit Court, which include counterclaims against the health department, claiming religious discrimination in violation of the federal and state constitutions and the federal Fair Housing Act, according to The Daily Sheeple.
The Amish community in Lenawee County adheres to their “old order” religious way of life by hand-pumping water from wells, using outhouses instead of flush toilets, and not using electricity, cell phones, or automobiles. Despite the fact that the Amish community’s choice to live in traditional ways causes no harm to themselves or anyone else, the Lenawee County Health Department has condemned their homes and is now asking a court to authorize the demolition of their property, unless the Amish community abandons its religious beliefs.
“This is not a question of public health — it’s Lenawee County officials using religious discrimination as a tactic to run this Amish community out of their homes and destroy their way of life,” said Richard Schulte, an attorney with Wright & Schulte, LLC. “This community’s commitment to live according to their religion harms no one.”
“The county is persecuting this Amish community because of their deeply held religious beliefs that have safely guided their way of life for generations,” said senior staff attorney with the ACLU of Michigan, Phil Mayor. “Lenawee County residents should be outraged that their local officials, using taxpayer money and in the county’s name, have condemned their Amish neighbors’ homes and are threatening to demolish their houses, and leave them homeless. They should contact their county commissioners and other local officials and implore them to end this vicious attack on the Amish religion.”
For the health department’s part, as of December, one official is saying they are open to reaching a compromise, saying, “We are very open for discussing options.”
One compromise that has been offered to the Amish is to install septic tanks underneath the outhouses that is then pumped out by a licensed professional, according to Martin Marshall, county administrator. These are called vault privies and are sometimes used in campgrounds and roadside rest areas.
Other health code violations revolve around how the Amish get their water. The Amish do not have running water and typically use some sort of hand pump to obtain water from the ground. Other ways include a gas pump or windmill.
Water supply systems must be constructed to provide “potable water which will not endanger the health of the user” and can meet the demands of all users, according to the health code.
Hall said hand-pumped water is an acceptable method but wells must be installed according to state construction code and water must be supplied to a fixture in the home, such as a kitchen sink.
Hall described it as a closed system where a proper seal prevents contaminants from getting into the water supply.
As of this report, it does not appear that any compromise has been arrived at. Remember these 14 Amish families in your prayers as they fight for their religious convictions and their right to freely live according to them.
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