Ruling: Amish Man Loses Religious Challenge to Septic Tank

am_fam_plowing_mbAn interesting decision by an Ohio Municipal Court was just posted in State of Ohio v. Bontrager, (OH Munic. Ct., June 24, 2008). The court explored a free exercise challenge by Adam Bontrager who refused to install a septic tank because the use of electricity would violate his Amish beliefs. In the end, sewage treatment trumped free exercise.

Bontrager was defending against criminal charges in his refusing to build the septic tank. Bontrager was convicted and fined $50. The court, however, explored the variations within the Amish community before ruling against him:

To determine the “sincerity” of the defendant’s religious beliefs, the test is “whether a given belief * * * occupies a place in the life of its possessor parallel to that filled by the orthodox belief in God” * * * it is more than a personal or philosophical belief. Bontrager, supra, citing United States v. Seeger (1965), 380 U.S. 163, and Wisconsin v. Yoder, supra.

The defendant testified that there are different “sects” (for lack of a better term) of
the Amish – each has its own church and bishop based upon geography, i.e., where they reside in relation to the particular church. According to the defendant, while they all follow the same general religious beliefs, they all operate somewhat independently of each other. The defendant agreed that his particular church and bishop permit the possession of a telephone (in an outbuilding). If a member of his church is a construction contractor, that person is permitted to have a cell phone (only on the job). Members of the church are permitted to have gasoline- powered motors, which he has on his property and which operates a water pump for his drinking
water, among other things. Conversely, while some sects allow the use of electricity, the defendant’s church and bishop do not, and defendant testified that he would be expelled from the church if he complied with the Department of Health’s regulation with regard to this particular septic system.

The court notes that the defendant joined this particular church two years ago
when he married and moved onto this particular piece of property. Nevertheless, he was willing to subject himself to this prosecution rather than violate that particular tenant of his church. Thus, the court finds that the defendant’s religious beliefs in this instance are sincerely held.

Yet, the Court still wants Bontrager going in a proper septic tank. This is not the first time that state compelling interests have collided with Amish values. Not long ago, there was an Amish challenge to the requirement of Homeland Security for all permanent residents to be photographs. The Amish view photos as prohibited “graven images.”

For the opinion, click here.

10 thoughts on “Ruling: Amish Man Loses Religious Challenge to Septic Tank”

  1. You don’t have to be born in an Amish family to be Amish. it isn’t like God created a special race of people called “Amish”. They are just humans like the rest of us. Except for the way they think, believe, and live. And the interesting thing here is that their way of life, as far back as it goes, is a prime example of just how far from the path modern society has gotten, and just how biased and idiotic the government is. Outhouses have never caused a health concern. Not in the thousands of years people have used them. Septic systems are a modern invention. Albeit an expensive one. And the so-called “code” or policies that officials use as excuses to enforce them are created out of politics. Nothing more. There isn’t a shred of proof that dumping poop on the ground is a health concern. The government just cannot stand it when a group of people don’t wanna play the consumer game where you become a slave to a system and pay pay pay.

    I say to ALL people in this world. Go Off The Grid. Tell the government to f**k off. They might be able to try and push a few around. But if we gang up on them enough, they will run and hide. We all need to live like the Amish do. Form REAL communities instead of the shithole towns that are nothing but full of divided individuals. Modern people are selfish and lazy. Far from what the Amish are.

  2. This one is for Szilard.

    Here is one very interesting point of view. The Muslims over in Iraq and Afghanistan have been killing people and blowing up stuff over the last 200 years. Their religious beliefs say that it is ok to blow up stuff and kill others that stand in the way. Now, with that in mind, Would we allow these muslims to exercise their religious beliefs that they have been practicing for centuries in the USA. Not since our brothers and sisters all died on 9-11-2001. That was the day that I decided that no religious beliefs are above the law that all of us have to follow. I truly believe that the so called “Amish” have no right to be above the law that everyone else has to follow no matter what their religious beliefs are. Some of the crap that these so called “Amish” do inside their own cult would make your stomach just turn. I would strongly suggest that you look past the surface and dig a lot deeper to see what the “Amish Cult” is really all about. Then maybe you can post a reply that actually makes sense. DON’T TALK ABOUT ISSUES IN WHICH YOU DON’T HAVE A CLUE ABOUT.


  3. You know your legal system went off track and you are doing something ethically wrong when you violate the Amish and their freedom to be the way they want to be. Especially if traditionally they have been that way, and it’s not something new they just started doing recently.

    Hold up two fingers and ask yourself:
    1. Am I telling the Amish what to do?
    2. Have they done what they do for centuries?

    If the answer is yes, go away and leave them alone, because you are the one who’s wrong. In fact amend the Constitution, so it can be interpreted for people other than Amish. There is a reason for precedence, and yes, moral and ethical standards evolve over time – things such as slavery, even if it always has been done, even for decades, we will butt in and change things, so precedent is not everything. But the Amish, they are different. In fact if the whole world goes vegetarian, and predators killing other animals will be allowed, but humans killing animals will not, there will be some exceptions, such as the eskimos, who can’t grow plants, the desert pygmies, and the Amish. These are holy sacred groups of people who chose the hard line of living because they want to live by principles, or their extremely harsh and special environment. We need to protect them the right way.

  4. The Amish I met and studied back in the 1980’s in Lancaster county would never have used a power tool for anything. Inbreeding was a major problem for them, as was being photographed. Power tools were not used, and when they needed the use of a telephone they’d go to a neighboring Mennonite farm where a car or phone was available.

  5. Where in Ohio was this? Ohio has Amish communities that rival Lancaster in size and very long histories. Amish built homes and furniture (which may have had power tools used) have been a staple of places on the periphery of Cleveland for decades.

  6. Yea I may have misread that. It’s hard to tell if he moved from another Amish community or joined this community church. Either way I was of course referring to old Ordnung and not these random Amish communities that spring up now. I met and visited with Lancaster County Amish back in the 1980′ and they were quite different from these sects we see now making Sheds and using power tools etc.

  7. It says that the guy joined “this particular church” two years ago, not that he became Amish two years ago.

  8. The guy’s not really Amish. No one is Amish for 2 years (except 2 year olds). Real Amish live and work in Amish communities and are raised Amish from birth. (hence the inbreeding problem). True Amish would never permit a telephone on their property or would they permit electricity of any kind, nor would it be a problem for them as their communities are their communities and are set up for such things as natural septic and manual pump wells, etc. If an Amish uses any modern technology like a car or a phone they usually go to Mennonite neighbors (who permit such things) to use it. The true Amish are not big on converts and it seems this guy belongs to a spin off of the Amish who act more like Mennonites than Amish and apparently live among us “English”.

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