ACLU-MI Defends Amish Community’s Religious Freedom Against Lenawee County’s Threat to Bulldoze Homes
MORENCI, Mich. – Today the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan (ACLU) and the law firm Wright & Schulte, LLC counter-sued the Lenawee County Health Department for violating the constitutional and civil rights of an Old Order Amish community by threatening to demolish every Amish-owned home in the county, in effect expelling an entire faith community from its borders. The Amish community, which lives in accordance with their religious beliefs by abstaining from using electricity, hydraulic power, running water, and other modern technology, faces expulsion from Lenawee County as a result of lawsuits that local officials filed against them last month.
“The county is persecuting this Amish community because of their deeply held religious beliefs that have safely guided their way of life for generations,” said Phil Mayor, senior staff attorney with the ACLU of Michigan. “Lenawee County residents should be outraged that their local officials, using taxpayer money and in the county’s name, have condemned their Amish neighbors’ homes and are threatening to demolish their houses, and leave them homeless. They should contact their county commissioners and other local officials and implore them to end this vicious attack on the Amish religion.”
The Amish community in Lenawee County adheres to their “old order” religious way of life by hand-pumping water from wells, using outhouses instead of flush toilets, and not using electricity, cell phones, or automobiles. Despite the fact that the Amish community’s choice to live in traditional ways causes no harm to themselves or anyone else, the Lenawee County Health Department has condemned their homes, and is now asking a court to authorize the demolition of their property, unless the Amish community abandons its religious beliefs.
“This is not a question of public health — it’s Lenawee County officials using religious discrimination as a tactic to run this Amish community out of their homes and destroy their way of life,” said Richard Schulte, attorney with Wright & Schulte, LLC. “This community’s commitment to live according to their religion harms no one.”
After harassing the Amish community for years regarding its water supply and disposal, the county health department posted signs on the Amish families’ homes earlier this year condemning them as “unfit for human habitation” and filed lawsuits against 14 Amish families in November. If successful, the lawsuits would result in the demolition of the Amish families’ homes and would effectively banish an entire religious community from Lenawee County. The ACLU and Wright & Schulte filed answers to those lawsuits today in Lenawee County Circuit Court, which include counterclaims against the county for religious discrimination in violation of the federal and state constitutions and the federal Fair Housing Act.
Attorneys for the Amish include Dan Korobkin and Phil Mayor from the ACLU of Michigan, Richard Schulte and Stephen Behnke from Wright & Schulte, ACLU cooperating attorney John Shea, and attorney Jacob Bender. The case was referred to them by the Fair Housing Center of Southeast & Mid Michigan.
A press conference at 1 p.m. today will be held on the Amish property located at: 9253 Ranger Highway, Morenci, MI 49256.
Please note: media may only document photos and video of the Amish community’s feet, and of themselves with their backs facing the camera — please do not document their faces. You may document their homes, horses, and buggies.
This release and corresponding documents are at:
Every month, you'll receive regular roundups of the most important civil rights and civil liberties developments. Remember: a well-informed citizenry is the best defense against tyranny.
The Latest in Religious Liberty
The American Civil Liberties Union is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States of America.
Learn More About Religious Liberty
The ACLU strives to safeguard the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious liberty by ensuring that laws and governmental practices neither promote religion nor interfere with its free exercise.