Amish and Pa. state law clash over outhouse disposal

July 8, 2008 9:47:53 AM PDT
Two Amish farmers who said their religious convictions prevented them from disposing of outhouse waste according to state sewage laws appealed their jail sentences.

Andy Swartzentruber and Sam Yoder were convicted of two summary violations and sentenced last month to three months in jail. They turned down a chance to perform community service or pay a fine to avoid jail time.

James Stratton, an attorney representing Swartzentruber and Yoder, said the sentences were excessive and violated the men's constitutional rights to freedom of religion.

A judge could also decide to hear an appeal on the convictions.

Swartzentruber, 52, and Yoder, 53, had until July 21 to appeal the sentence or report to jail.

The defendants are members of the Swartzentruber Amish. While all Amish shun the modern world, the Swartzentrubers are known for their more severe restrictions on technology and interaction with the outside world.

The outhouses were used by children who attended an Amish school on property owned by Swartzentruber. Yoder is a school elder.

Waste from the outhouses had been collected in plastic buckets, then dumped onto fields. The county was demanding the Amish install a holding tank and contract with a certified sewage hauler for disposal, in accordance with sewage disposal laws.

Since the hearing, the outhouses have been removed and the tanks have been legally pumped out.

Cambria County District Attorney Patrick Kiniry told The Tribune-Democrat of Johnstown that the case was about public safety.

"There are many First Amendment protections, but not every disagreement concerning public safety issues creates a First Amendment issue," he said.

The men, who had represented themselves previously, said after the June 12 sentencing hearing that it was against their beliefs to hire their own attorney, but would allow someone else to pay for a lawyer.

Oliver Smith, a Westmoreland County farmer who is friends with the Amish, said Tuesday he was paying for Stratton's services.

"It's a good cause," Smith told The Associated Press in a phone interview Tuesday. "They're the last free, independent people on the face of the earth.