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Amish community members in court over refusing to install septic systems

PRESTON, Minn. (KTTC) – Can the State of Minnesota force members of the Amish community to install an approved home septic system even if they claim it violates their religious beliefs?

That’s the question in Preston this week, where a legal battle has boiled for years over state requirements to install an approved home septic system.  Members of the Amish community have refused to obey state environmental codes on the matter.

Now, in the latest round in Fillmore County District Court, four of the Amish have sued the State of Minnesota over the issue.

This all started when the Swartzentruber Amish family began building a home near Harmony in 2014.

They didn’t get a county building permit because they didn’t want to build a septic system in the home, but that’s against state laws and regulations and local building codes.

The Fillmore County Attorney, arguing on behalf of the state, said Wednesday members of the Amish community are getting rid of that waste water without running it through a treatment system, which poses environmental and public health concerns.

“They are indicating that they believe it’s against their religion,” said Fillmore County Attorney Brett Corson.

The Amish and their supporters argue that wastewater poses no harm, as long as people don’t ingest it.

“It should be managed in a way that people aren’t coming into direct contact with it. So it should be soaking into the ground, not puddling up,” said Graywater Action Co-founder Lauran Allen. “And it also has nutrients in it which can be a source of pollution if they get into waterways.”

But some families in the community did install a grey water treatment system. Allen visited one of the properties.

“The systems are gravity flowing so the water flows by gravity into a mulched basin. So a place to soak up the water, so it’s contained, it’s subsurface it’s surfacing, it’s all going down into the ground being filtered by wood chips,” said Allen.

She said another alternative to septic systems is a vegetation treatment system.

This trial will determine whether the Amish will have to obey state environmental laws.

“What we’re intending to prove is that it doesn’t not burden their religious belief, so it doesn’t prevent them from practicing their faith,” said Corson. “We also intend to prove that these are important systems that protect public health and safety.”

“There are many other states to look to, to see how they are managing graywater in a safe responsible way that also happens to be in alignment with Amish religious beliefs and the systems that work for them,” said Allen.

The Amish could be ordered not to occupy the house in question unless a septic system is installed.

The trial began on Monday and expected to continue throughout the week.

Ala Errebhi

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