LENAWEE COUNTY (Michigan News Source) – Back in 2019, the ACLU of Michigan took up a case involving 14 Amish families, in Medina Township, who were accused of not complying with the county’s sewage disposal practices. The Lenawee County Administrator’s Office said the families had disposed of untreated sewage in unsanitary ways since 2015 and the county had asked the court to either force the residents into compliance or force them to demolish and remove their buildings.
The Amish, who rarely file lawsuits or engage with court systems, were contacted by the ACLU of Michigan, after the issue was referred to them by the Fair Housing Center of Southeast & Mid Michigan. The ACLU of Michigan, which is working on the case pro bono with the Ohio legal team Wright & Schulte, LLC, drafted a countersuit against the county, and said that their actions violated constitutional guarantees of freedom of religion in both the state and federal Constitutions and also violated provisions in the Federal Fair Housing Act.
The Amish don’t use electricity, running water or indoor plumbing and according to their attorneys, complying with the county’s order would infringe on their religious freedoms.
The county’s health department says that the Amish’s properties are not up to health code and after inspecting one of the homes had said it “did not have adequate sewage disposal or water system and is unfit for habitation.”
Because the Amish don’t have indoor plumbing, they usually use an outhouse and pump water by hand or gas motor, however the county’s health code prohibits sewage from being discharged on the ground.
The county has said their sewage and gray water, wastewater from bathtubs and sinks, were being disposed of on the ground and posed a danger to the general public’s health. Their original suit said, “injury to persons, particularly children, is highly probable and imminent unless this nuisance is immediately abated by removal of the buildings.”
The county can declare a dwelling unfit for habitation if they don’t meet standards of adequate water and sewage systems – and can issue an order requiring people to vacate the premises if conditions aren’t met.
The Amish had received letters in 2016 to comply with health code and obtain permits. They sent a letter back to the county in 2017 through attorneys that they didn’t intend to comply. After that is when they received their orders declaring their properties unfit for habitation.
The attorneys for the Amish recently filed a motion on November 7th for Summary Disposition to move the case forward. Oral arguments will occur on December 5th.
Attorneys for the Amish families said in their recent motion, “At the end of the day, the case is not that complicated. (Lenawee) County initiated these actions with no evidence whatsoever that the Amish were engaged in dangerous practices. After three years of litigation, they still have no such evidence.”
Attorneys for the Amish had said in a statement to the Free Press in 2019, “No one should have to choose between their faith and having their homes destroyed and being rendered homeless, but that’s the choice the county is attempting to foist on this community.”
Phil Mayor, senior staff attorney of the ACLU of Michigan, had told the Free Press if the Amish vacated their homes it would expel them from the county because it would be impossible to follow their faith and comply with the health code. He also made an additional statement to the media where he said, “The Constitution allows everyone to practice religion as they see fit as long as they’re not harming anyone. If the county gets its way, it’ll be the expulsion of an entire religious community within its borders.”