Supreme Court decision claims Minnesota county officials bullied Amish over religious beliefs

The county threatened to impose criminal and civil penalties if the group did not comply.

Stock photo/Unsplash

(The Minnesota Sun) — The Supreme Court recently decided in favor of a Fillmore County Amish community after the county attempted to force the Amish to violate their religious beliefs by installing a septic system, after a lower court had previously ruled in favor of the county and Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

According to the court’s decision, written by Justice Neil Gorsuch, the county engaged in bullying tactics in an attempt to get the Swartzentruber Amish community to agree to its terms. Those tactics included “threats of reprisals and inspections of their homes and farms” and attacks on “the sincerity of the Amish’s faith.”

The Swartzentruber Amish community is one of the most conservative in the nation. It does not use electricity. But in an attempt to get them to comply, the county questioned the group’s conservatism.

“The County even unsuccessfully sought a court order authorizing its agents to inspect the inside of Amish homes as part of an investigation into what types of modern technologies and materials they might be using,” Gorsuch wrote in his decision. “Apparently, this was part of an effort to amass ‘evidence’ to ‘attack the sincerity of [the Amish’s] religious beliefs.’”

The county also threatened to impose criminal and civil penalties if the group did not comply.

The Amish attempted to come to a settlement with the county that would not have violated their religious beliefs. They offered to install wood chip basins to filter and drain their dirty water after it was used for bathing and washing clothes.

The county refused, and proceeded with its strong-arm tactics.

Eventually, the Supreme Court vacated the lower court’s ruling, using a newly-established precedent from a case called Fulton v. Philadelphia. In that case, the Supreme Court ruled against the city of Philadelphia, which sought to exclude a Catholic adoption agency from its foster program because that agency refused to adopt children to gay couples.

In essence, the Supreme Court ruled that just like in the case of the city of Philadelphia against the Catholic adoption agency, Fillmore county was attempting to violate the religious beliefs of the Amish.