A Pennsylvania Appellate Court has ordered an Old Order Amish family to use an Electrical Sewer Pump. The electrical sewer pump would connect the Amish home to the main municipal sewers of the county.
The Amish have often fought with local, state, and even the federal government about compliance with laws that govern the rest of society. The right to home school children exists because the Yoder Amish were successful in winning an exemption from Wisconsin’s compulsory education laws in the 1970s. The Amish are most famous for shunning the use of modern technology, including the use of electricity.
The majority opinion of the court is that the Yoders would not be burdened by the electrical pump. The Yoder Amish have incorporated other electrical devices into their lifestyle, including telephones, power tools, and even cars, without religious conflict. The electrical pump would connect the Amish family’s house to the main sewer line, thereby preventing a potential public health hazard.
Judge McCullough dissented, arguing that there less intrusive ways of disposing sewerage without the use of an electrical pump that would violate the Amish’s religious beliefs.
The Sanctuary of Hearth and Home
Although maintaining religious freedoms with public health standards usually requires a balancing act, very little balancing is required in this case. Laws must not substantially burden religious practices without a compelling reason and without a better way of achieving that goal. If there is a way of disposing sewerage without the use an electrical pump, then the Amish should prevail.
Logically, there must be a way to dispose of sewerage without electricity. Removing human waste is a problem that has existed for as long as society has existed. Since mass consumption of electricity only began in the late 1800s, there must have been ways of disposing human waste before the modern era. If the Amish are willing to take on the burden of using pre-electrical methods of removing sewerage, there is no reason they should be compelled to use technology that is against their religious beliefs.
The majority’s focus on whether the Amish use technology is thus misplaced. Even if the use of an electrical device would not significantly burden the Yoders, Pennsylvania has yet to show that there isn’t a better way. The question is not whether the Amish can use modern technology, but whether the Amish have a way of addressing the public health issues without resorting to modern technology. If they do, then the Amish’s religious beliefs can be preserved without conflict.
What’s the Takeaway?
The most striking aspect of this case is that it involves such an intimate area of human living. The state seeks to regulate the bathroom of a private home. Most people don’t care about what happens after they flush their toilet, but this is government intrusion into a part of the house that most people prefer others not view. This is more intrusive than a bakery refusing to bake a wedding cake. Pennsylvania should work harder to accommodate the Amish’s religious beliefs than they have.
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