Sunday, June 26, 2016

Michigan Trial Judge: OK For Amish Man To Disregard State Building Code When Constructing Home, Other Structures; Forced Compliance Would Violate His 1st Amendment Right To Freely Exercise His Religion

In Chippewa County, Michigan, the Sault Ste. Marie Evening News reports:
  • The Amish will not have to abide by the requirements of the Michigan Residential Building Code as they construct new structures in Chippewa County, according to a recent ruling from visiting Judge Harold Johnson in the 50th Circuit Court.

    The defendant in this case, William Miller, sought an exemption asserting compliance with the code would violate his First Amendment right to freely exercise his religion. He further argued, according to Johnson's written opinion issued on June 6, that denial of the exemption would be both a violation of the Fair Housing Act and a violation of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000.

    The building code requirements include provisions for electric and plumbing systems, indoor bathrooms, modernized kitchens and additional requirements for electronic devices such as smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors.

    "The court is of the opinion the denial of an exemption is a violation of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Act of 2000, 42 U.S.C Sec 2000cc (a) (1)," wrote Johnson before outlining his rationale for handing down this decision.

    Citing Miller's membership to the Old Order of Amish teachings and strict adherence to the conservative Ordnung which stresses separation from the outside world and the practice of self-sufficiency in the construction of houses, barns and structures, Johnson determined that denying an exemption would be a substantial burden to Miller's beliefs in the free exercise of his religion.

    Johnson also noted that a violation of the Ordnung could result in church discipline up to and including excommunication, essentially showing that Miller could be kicked out of his church for following the building code.

    County Administrator Jim German said it is likely the prosecutor's office will seek a reconsideration of the motion, but barring a change of mind by Judge Johnson the ruling will stand. The only other option, German explained, would be to appeal the ruling, but that would require the Chippewa County Board of Commissioners to approve a measure to pursue this matter and sign off on unspecified legal costs for the appellate court proceedings.

    "We've done everything we could per the law," said German. "All the county is trying to do is follow the legal opinions that are given to us."

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