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Amish farmer arrested for refusing to compromise principles

By John W. Whitehead

The Amish are typically thought of as a law-abiding group of individuals who live by a strict set of rules. Also referred to in this country as the Old Order Amish or Plain People, theyre known for a devout adherence to their religious beliefs, a single-minded commitment to a simple, non-modern lifestyle, and defenseless non-resistance.
One thing they are not known for is breaking the law. So when the Central Michigan Health Department had a 65-year-old Amish bishop arrested and criminally charged with violating a health department ordinance, it made people wonder what heinous deed he could have committed.

It turns out that the bishops crime was one of household plumbing or, more specifically, the lack thereof. This farmer, along with many in his Gladwin County, Mich., Amish community, refused to comply with a health department order to install a complex septic and sewage disposal system in his home to prevent runoff from household dishwater. In order to stay out of jail, the bishop was even forced to post bail. Four other Amish farmers were also criminally charged with violating the ordinance, made to appear in criminal court and forced to plead guilty in return for the criminal charges being dropped.

After all this, the farmers still tried to reason with health officials. The Amish lifestyle is so simple that it doesnt even include indoor plumbing, aside from kitchen sink wastewater that flows into a tile-lined septic system in their yards. To install a complex and expensive septic system, which would obviously require electricity to run, was both improbable and unnecessary. After all, the Amish, who are generally opposed to the conveniences of modern living, do not use automobiles, telephones or electricity and avoid commercial chemicals, gasoline and chlorofluorocarbons.

After insisting that the departments wastewater disposal system is tailored to a non-Amish lifestyle, six of the Old Order Amish farmers proposed an alternative simple system of wastewater removal. This system would allow them to safely and effectively remove wastewater while still adhering to their Amish religious beliefs and practices. An independent hydrogeologist who was called in to investigate the farmers proposal agreed that the system met, and even exceeded, all requirements of the health departments sanitary code. Nevertheless, the Health Departments board refused to accommodate the beliefs of the Amish. Now The Rutherford Institute has stepped into the fray to help the Amish defend their religious freedom and their way of life.

To most Americans who subscribe to the philosophy that you need to pick your battles wisely, a dispute over plumbing may not seem like a worthy battle. But it says a lot about this group of simple-living, non-resistant, peace-loving people that they are willing to challenge authority, rather than act in a manner that contradicts their religious beliefs and way of life.

For more than 300 years, these intensely private individuals have practiced a way of life that revolves around their deeply held religious beliefs. Believing in a literal interpretation of the Bible, the Amish point to Romans 12:2, Be ye not conformed to the world, as one of the bedrock Bible verses for their lifestyle and attitude of separation from the world. It is a lifestyle that rejects most of the trappings that come along with modern living. Dressed in plainsome might say old-fashioned clothing; the men wear broad-brimmed black hats and plain-cut trousers and the women wear bonnets and ankle-length dressesthey reject all that might get in the way of practicing their faith.

Despite their tendency to stay to themselves and adopt an attitude of non-resistance and pacifism, these Plain People have not been strangers to conflict, persecution or oppression. In fact, their very presence in the United States is largely due to their escape from religious persecution in Europe, where their opposition to the union of church and state and infant baptism made them highly unpopular. Some early Amish martyrs were put in sacks and thrown into rivers in Europe as punishment for their beliefs.

Exercising their religious beliefs in the U.S. has not been without its own trials and tribulations. For example, back in the 1970s, the Amish were charged with breaking the law because they do not send their children to school beyond the eighth grade. According to the National Committee for Amish Religious Freedom, the Old Order Amish oppose higher education because it violates their morals and religious convictions and takes their children away from the simple ways of the Amish. But it took the Supreme Court in the case of Wisconsin vs. Yoder (l972) to protect the right of the Amish to direct their childrens education and upbringing. Since then, Amish communities have continued to be targeted by government officials for child labor regulations, not posting license plates on their buggies, and refusing to accept Social Security benefits or contribute to the Social Security systemall seemingly in an attempt to force them into a lifestyle abhorrent to their beliefs.

And now these devout believers are once again being forced to justify their religious beliefs and way of life to government officials who believe that a states rights should trump an individuals rights. But, as James Madison argued, our Constitution was created to protect the minority from the majority. Thus, whether we agree with the way the Amish live their lives, it is their constitutionaland sacredright to do so.