An Amish family in Pennsylvania must connect to its local municipal sewer system, even though it would require the use of an electric pump, which goes against the family's religious beliefs.
A Jan. 5 opinion by a divided Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court finally ended the five-year legal battle. The court agreed with a lower court ruling that ordered the Yoder family to connect to the municipal sewer system. The family, which is Old Order Amish and avoid use of electricity for religious reasons, should complete the mandatory connection "without further delay."
The Yoder family argued that use of electricity violates its religious convictions. The family has used an outhouse — an "old-fashioned privy" — that did not require running water or electricity, according to the decision written by Judge Robert Simpson.
But Sugar Grove Township requires residents with properties that abut the sewer system to connect to it at the owners' cost.
The ruling addressed whether the Yoders could connect to the system without use of an electric pump. It followed a number of previous opinions on the case from county and state courts.
The court's majority opinion cited previous cases finding the family "used electricity when necessary, through telephones and riding in motor vehicles."
Photos: 2018 PA Farm Show butter sculpture revealed
The court ruled that that using an electric pump was the "least intrusive means" of connecting to the sewer system.
In a dissenting opinion, Judge Patricia McCullough expressed concern with the ruling, saying there were other ways of disposing of sewage in a sanitary way that would not infringe upon the Yoder family's religious rights.
That's a concern shared by Sara Rose, a senior staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union.
"They didn't consider the other ways that the government could have achieved its ends," she said. She also said the decision unduly put the burden on the Yoders.
She was also concerned about the possible effects of the case, which she said is one of only a few to apply Pennsylvania's Religious Freedom Protection Act.
While the case doesn't establish precedent, she said it could be cited in future cases.