Amish Challenge Forced Water Treatment System in Supreme Court on Religious Grounds

March 17, 2021 Updated: March 17, 2021

An isolated Amish community in Minnesota is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review a ruling by the state’s high court that allows a regulator to force its members to install a septic system that conflicts with their religious beliefs.

The case is Mast v. Fillmore County, court file 20-7028. The Minnesota Supreme Court ruled against the Amish on Aug. 25, 2020.

The Minnesota Attorney General’s Office, which is representing the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA), has been asked by the U.S. Supreme Court to respond to the petition brought by members of the Fillmore County Amish community. The attorney general’s office didn’t respond to a request by The Epoch Times for comment by press time.

The dispute dates to 2013, when the MPCA approved sewage treatment rules mandating that all counties create local ordinances rather than simply adopting the state septic code by reference. Later that year, Fillmore County adopted and implemented a stand-alone ordinance that required the Swartzentruber Amish community to install a septic system for so-called gray water. Minnesota considers “gray water” to be the household wastewater produced from laundry, bathing, and cooking activities and which doesn’t contain toilet waste.

A septic system is viewed by the Amish as a forbidden technological innovation from the outside world.

To the Amish, a “rejection of modern technology is critical to their way of life; if they are forced to choose between their beliefs and the farms that provide their livelihood, they will choose their beliefs,” the petition filed with the Supreme Court states. “That is the choice the government is forcing upon them.”

A Swartzentruber Amish settlement was established in Fillmore County, Minn., in the 1980s. The Swartzentruber Amish are the most conservative of the approximately 40 different Amish affiliations and its members have remained the most separate from the modern world, according to their petition.

A key tenet of Amish religious beliefs is that its adherents remain separate and apart from the modern world. This concept of separation emanates from Christian Biblical directions to “be not conformed to this world,” quoting Romans 12:2; and “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers,” quoting 2 Corinthians 6:14.

In June 2014, 48 Swartzentruber Amish representatives from all of the Fillmore County church districts sent a letter to the MPCA stating their religious objections to the septic system requirement. In August 2015, 55 representatives from all of the church districts followed up with a second letter to the MPCA.

The MPCA responded in 2016 by suing the Amish to compel them to into installing Fillmore County’s approved septic tank-based system. The regulator threatened criminal penalties, weekly community service requirements, and fines.

Many Amish yielded to the government’s demands or left the state. During 2016, a total of 62.2 percent of all the MPCA cases filed statewide for any type of environmental concern were filed against Fillmore County Swartzentruber Amish families who refused to install septic tanks on religious grounds, according to court documents.

The Swartzentruber Amish say they are willing to use what they consider to be religiously compliant alternatives to the septic system. Specifically, they would like to adopt a mulch basin, a system based upon the gray water reuse methods and principles permitted in 20 other states. Such a system would comply with their Ordnung, or rules governing the community, they say, and also provide a level of wastewater management superior to that already permitted by the county in other circumstances.

The Swartzentruber Amish also don’t object to the government requiring minimum sizes for their mulch basins, establishing setbacks, or requiring soil testing to be done to determine where these gray water systems should be placed—but none of these alternatives has been acceptable to Fillmore County, the petition states.