Andy Schwartzentruber was released from the Cambria County, Pennsylvania, jail last week after completing his 90 day sentence for refusing to bring his outhouses into compliance with the orders of a judge. The Amish man feels that state and county regulations specifying construction and cleaning details of outhouses violate his religious rights. He had provided the outhouses for a school located on property he owns in the county. The judge had the school padlocked at the same time he sentenced the man to jail.
The county judge, Norman Krumenacker, claimed he tried to work out a compromise with the man, though the judge was not willing to relent on the fundamental issue as he saw it—that the state has the right to prescribe the construction details of an outhouse on private land. The Amish man refused to compromise too. His conservative Amish sect will not allow many modern devices into their homes or businesses. Rejection of technologies is a religious issue for them. Neither side would budge, so the man went to jail for his convictions.
The same judge ordered two other Amish farms in the county to be padlocked in May because the owners of the properties had failed to install proper outhouses for new homes they had built. When the two homes were padlocked, the sheriff’s deputies also locked the outbuildings on the farms, at the judge’s orders, but evidently he relented a bit last week on that issue.
One of the two Amish families, John and Susan Miller, met with the judge on Tuesday, accompanied by a sympathetic attorney, Dave Beyer, who has agreed to help them in their standoff with the authorities. The two sides are considering another approach, a siphoning system for the two houses, which may satisfy the county sewer enforcement agency and may also be acceptable to the local Amish bishop. Beyer expressed hope that a compromise can yet be reached.
“I wanted to see whether they can meet in the middle of the situation,” he said. “I am optimistic for a resolution.”
Judge Krumenacker decided to grant the Millers’ request that they be allowed to use their barns, so they can store crops as they harvest them. He also decided to allow the Millers, and the other family locked out of their houses, Joely and Mary Schwartzentruber, to be allowed to reenter their homes for just one day later in the week to retrieve personal articles that were left behind when they were locked out. It was not clear from news reports if the families would be allowed to use their outhouses during their one day visits.
At the beginning of the week, the county sewage enforcement agency revealed that still another Amish farm has been targeted by neighbors, who are complaining that it, too, does not have proper sewage disposal facilities. This newly opened complaint is about a property that is located in the same township as the other controversial Amish outhouses, and it is also owned by members of the ultra-conservative Schwartzentruber sect.
William Barbin, solicitor for the sewage agency, is responding in familiar fashion. “We’ll investigate the complaint, and if there are violations, the property owner will be notified,” he said. He would not identify the complaining neighbors. Presumably, if all goes according to the well-established, Cambria-County script, in six months that Amish family will also be locked out of their home. Then the complaining neighbors can search for their next victims.