A Michigan County Condemns 14 Amish Family Homes, Pits Govt Against Religious Rights

P. Gardner Goldsmith | December 23, 2019
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It reads like something from a film, but it is all too real and happening right now, with real-world, human consequences: Amish families living in peace and not harming anyone are set-upon by bureaucrats from the concrete jungle of the government and now have to work with legal-eagle attorneys to retain their homes, maintain their way of life, and continue to practice their religion.

All in the face of government “code enforcement”.

Here’s the story.

After years claiming that the water supplies and waste disposal systems of fourteen Amish family homes weren’t “up to code”, the Lenawee County, MI, Health Department recently posted signs on the properties condemning the houses as “unfit for human habitation”, and the government just filed suit to destroy them.

To be precise, they filed suit to destroy the buildings, not their own tax-funded signs.

As Spencer Durham notes for the Daily Telegram, via The Detroit Free Press:

The health department has filed lawsuits against the owners of the properties for what it calls a lack of adequate water and sewer systems.

Which, to anyone familiar with Amish life and religious practices, appears as a big red flag, a sign that someone in the bureaucracy either doesn’t understand the principles of religious freedom and private property, or does understand those concepts, and simply chooses to ignore them in favor of politically created rules.

Don’t most adults know that the Amish adhere to the “old order” way of life that shuns electricity, uses horse-drawn transport, utilizes hand-pumps to obtain water, and uses outhouses for human waste?

No neighbor has filed an action for damages. In fact, neighbors are hard to come by in this part of Michigan. It’s quite sparsely populated. I’ve been through it numerous times on the way to Hillsdale College. Yet, writes Durham:

The health department’s complaint stated that sewage and gray water, wastewater from bathtubs and sinks, were being disposed of on the ground and posed a danger to the general public’s health.

That would be the general public, where?

And who, exactly has filed suit against the fourteen families for damages to their own water or property?

That would be no one.

This is all about the omnipotent state. It’s about “the code”, as in “government commands” ruling over how people run what is supposed to be their own private property.

The county health code prohibits sewage from being discharged on the ground. Water supply systems must be constructed to provide “potable water which will not endanger the health of the user ...” and can meet the demands of all users, according to the code.

Do the County “authorities” think these fourteen widely-spaced families are all suicidal? Do they somehow think that they, the government bureaucrats, care more for the families than the families themselves? There has never been an incident of poisoning or contamination, and, as mentioned, there has not been a legal case for damages filed by any of the distant neighbors of these Amish families. Yet now, these unobtrusive people are forced to join forces with modern lawyers to fight the government just so they can keep their homes and their quiet, unassuming religious practices.

Writes Durham:

Phil Mayor, senior staff attorney for the ACLU of Michigan, said the demands from the county ask the Amish to compromise their way of life. ‘No one should have to choose between their faith and having their homes destroyed and being rendered homeless, but that’s the choice the county is attempting to foist on this community,’ he said.

Which is a sad state of affairs.

Not only are the Amish families now forced to work with photo-shooting and video-recording reporters and with the aforementioned attorneys -- straying from their preference to steer clear of even those aspects of contemporary life in order to retain the bulk of their traditions and practices -- they are seeing how the very concept of property rights is undermined by preemptive government “codes”.

Which is something for all of us to keep in mind.

These preemptive “rules” for how one can peacefully utilize his or her private property run completely counter to the very concept of property ownership. You don’t really own private property if people calling themselves government can tell you what you can and cannot peacefully do with it. That means they own it to some extent, not you.

And from this we can derive another important lesson.

This perverse belief that politicians can preemptively prohibit certain kinds of peaceful “uses” of your private property because such uses hold the potential to bring harm to the life or property of another is not only alien to the concepts of private property and freedom, they not only open a Pandora's Box to allow government to ban virtually any peaceful activity, they subvert a long-held Western legal tradition going back to the Dark Ages: the concept of Tort Law.

In Medieval times, people could bring tortious claims against others if they could show that they or their property had been damaged by the actions of the potential defendant. The standard required a person with a valid claim of damage. Then, a jury would hear the case.

That standard has been destroyed by contemporary government and its “regulations” and “codes”. Now, even when no human being claims damages, the state, i.e. the government, claims the power to prohibit or fine people for their peaceful actions on their own land.

But the state is not a person. As such, based on the foundations of tort law, the state cannot make a tortious claim for damages because no real human being has been damaged. All those fines, all those “regulations” and “codes”, are wealth extraction and punishment for not doing something “their” way.

That’s not fair. That’s not ethical, and it’s nowhere close to freedom.


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