PRESTON — For the past week, four members of the Swartzentruber Amish community have listened to arguments on whether their religious beliefs would allow them to not comply with state wastewater regulations.
Four men, Ammon Swartzentruber, Menno Mast, Ammo Mast and Sam Miller, filed suit in April 2017 against the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and Fillmore County over concerns that an ongoing effort by the state agency and the county to require them to install a wastewater system for graywater would go against their religious faith.
“If they comply with this policy, they will have to answer for this utilization of wastewater systems at the Day of Judgement,” attorney Brian Lipford wrote in the initial complaint for the four men.
The trial, heard by Judge Joseph Chase, started on Monday in Fillmore County District Court. The lawsuit was originally filed in Ramsey County but was later moved to Fillmore County. It is unclear when closing arguments will be made in the case.
Both the county and the state agency have countered that the religious beliefs of the four men are trumped by concerns over public health and safety as well as environmental concerns.
The contention can be traced back to March 2006, when the Fillmore County Zoning Office performed a compliance inspection on the homes as part of a countywide “Imminent Public Health Threat Inventory.”
The issue was brought back to the forefront in 2013. Minnesota passed a law requiring counties to create and enact local ordinances that comply with changes to the MPCA’s sewage treatment system within two years. All homes were to have a holding tank for wastewater, the size of which is determined by the number of bedrooms in the home.
The Fillmore County ordinance provided “alternative local standards” for their Amish community. Amish households are required to have a 1,000 gallon tank regardless of bedroom size.
Amish homeowners refused to make the mandated changes and the case was referred to the MPCA in August 2015.
In November 2017, the MCPA sent an administrative penalty order that ordered the Amish to make the necessary updates or appeal within 30 days. Members of the community again declined to make the changes and did not appeal within 30 days. A $1,000 fine was imposed in February 2016.