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Pa. Amish Complain About Zoning Laws

An attorney for two Amish men cited for keeping horses on their properties says township officials are trying to restrict religion.

The lawyer, James M. Bryant, said a Walker Township zoning ordinance was a means of keeping the Amish out of certain areas. The ordinance's language, which specifically bars horses instead of a broader prohibition against keeping livestock, showed it was targeted at the Amish, he said.

"You can have ducks. You can have cows. You can have sheep. You can have burros. ... You can't have horses,'' Bryant said. "It's just subtle prejudice.''

District Justice Daniel R. Hoffman said Thursday the zoning dispute should return to Common Pleas court to protect the due process rights of the defendants, Daniel Lee King, 26, and Daniel Beiler, 30. They have been given 30 days to appeal their case.
King said after the hearing that they would file the appeal.

"I think that's our only choice,'' he said.

In November 2000, Walker Township, about 20 miles northeast of State College, amended its zoning codes to prohibit keeping horses on property zoned for multifamily residential.

David Consiglio, the attorney for the zoning board, said the ordinance was meant to keep livestock out of areas where people are more likely to live in close quarters. Although the particular section in question mentions only horses, Consiglio said, the zoning ordinance prohibits ``raising or keeping'' horses, cattle, sheep, pigs or wild animals.

"It comes down to a matter of zoning. It doesn't have anything to do with religion,'' Consiglio said.

Donald B. Kraybill, senior fellow at the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Groups at Elizabethtown College, said the law was the latest example of conflict between Amish and their predominantly non-Amish neighbors.

In Illinois, a new law allows local governments to charge up to $50 to license Amish buggies to help pay for road damage caused by buggy wheels and shod horses. And in Clinton County--just a few miles up the road from Walker Township--officials in Greene Township last year tabled a similar measure after getting complaints that it unfairly targeted the Amish.

The Amish generally shun modern conveniences such as electricity, telephones and cars. They have traditionally worked in agriculture, but moved into other industries as farming became less profitable.

King and Beiler each were given citations last month for keeping a horse on property that is zoned to prohibit horses. Judge Hoffman was scheduled to hear arguments Thursday regarding the penalty, but said it was unclear whether King and Beiler were aware that they could have appealed the zoning board's decision.

"I have to make sure they have their due process,'' Hoffman said. "I'm not saying, gentlemen, that anyone robbed you of your due process. I'm just saying I can't definitively know that you were told of your due process.''