The ACLU of Michigan is defending the Amish community of Lenawee County against lawsuits filed by local officials seeking to demolish every Amish-owned home in the county simply because the Amish lead a natural and pre-modern way of life according to their religious beliefs and values. According to the county, the Amish are legally required to use modern plumbing technology even though doing so would force an entire religious community to choose between their faith and mass expulsion from the county.
Both the First Amendment and the Michigan Constitution protect the free exercise of religion, which means that everyone has the right to practice their religion free from government interference so long as they are not harming others in the process. That is all that the dozen or so Amish families of Lenawee County want to do. They lead a peaceful pre-modern existence in which they carry their water indoors from a well and rely on natural and organic methods to run their farms instead of electricity and modern plumbing technology that most non-Amish people use. Their lifestyle presents no credible harm to others.
When a community of “old order” Amish families moved to a rural area of Lenawee County, many from neighboring communities where they had lived in peace for generations, county officials insisted that they must use running water and modern sewage systems that conflict with the order’s religious practice of rejecting the use of modern technology. Despite efforts to educate local officials about the religious practices of the Amish, the county posted notices on Amish homes calling them “unfit for human habitation.”
Most of the Lenawee County Amish moved to the county around 2015 from neighboring counties where Amish communities have lived in peace for years. Shortly after their arrival, local officials began to harass them, sending hostile bureaucratic letters about the need for the Amish to adopt modern systems in order to comply with local ordinances. Time after time, county officials refused to listen to the Amish’s religious concerns or to try to work with the Amish to figure out a solution that would comport with their deeply held religious beliefs. This pattern of harassment culminated in the fall of 2019, when the County filed lawsuits against every single Amish family, all on the same day, demanding their immediate compliance with their bureaucratic demands. The county has asked the court for permission to enter onto the Amish’s land and demolish their homes.
In October 2019 Lenawee County filed lawsuits against every Amish family in the county asking a court to kick the Amish off their own property and demolish their homes. The ACLU of Michigan is representing the Amish families to defend their right to adhere to their religious beliefs while not harming anyone else. In December 2019 we filed counterclaims for violating the Amish families’ constitutional rights to religious liberty as well as the Fair Housing Act. Initial attempts to work out an amicable solution with the County were unsuccessful, and we are now engaged in discovery.
The ACLU of Michigan, along with the law firm of Wright & Schulte, ACLU cooperating attorney John Shea, and local counsel Jacob Bender are representing thirteen Amish families against Lenawee County’s attempt to expel the Amish community from the county’s borders. We have filed counterclaims arguing that the county’s cruel lawsuits violate the Amish’s right to religious freedom under the First Amendment, the Michigan Constitution, and the Fair Housing Act.
(Lenawee County Health Department v. Eicher; ACLU Attorneys Phil Mayor and Dan Korobkin; Cooperating Attorney John Shea; co-counsel Rick Schulte, Steve Behnke, Dennis Mulvihill, and Jacob Bender.)