Religious Law

Amish family ordered by state appellate court to use electric sewer pump

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An Old Order Amish family rides in an open wagon in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. George Sheldon /

A split three-judge panel representing a Pennsylvania appellate court has ordered an Old Order Amish family, whose religious beliefs frown upon the use of electricity, to connect to a municipal sewer through an electric grinder pump.

The Legal Intelligencer, PennLive and York Daily Record had the story.

Sugar Grove Township’s Mandatory Connection Ordinance requires any property owner whose property abuts the Sugar Grove Area Sewer Authority sewer system to connect their properties to the town’s sewage system. The court affirmed the trial court’s decision that electric service was the least intrusive means of sewer connection. This has been problematic for Amish families, as they avoid the use of electricity because of their religious beliefs.

Plaintiffs Joseph and Barbara Yoder have continuously refused to comply with Sugar Grove Township’s Mandatory Connection Ordinance, citing religious freedom.In fact, this is the third related sewer-connection action involving the Yoders in the past five years.

The Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania issued its decision Jan. 5. The majority opinion, written by Judge Robert Simpson, contended that the electric pump is the least intrusive means of connecting to the sewage system because it is the only feasible one. Simpson also pointed out that the Yoders have used electrical appliances before such as telephones and were not shunned by the Amish community.

Senior Judge Dan Pellegrini joined Simpson’s ruling. Judge Patricia A. McCullough, on the other hand, did not. Her dissenting opinion asserted that Sugar Grove Township neglected other sanitary ways of disposing sewage that would not require connecting to the sewer system via electricity and would thus preserve the Yoders’ religious freedom.

The unpublished opinion does not establish a legal precedent for future cases in Pennsylvania involving Amish families and public utilities.

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