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ACLU countersues Lenawee County for trying to demolish Amish families' homes

Amish transportation
Tracy Samilton
Michigan Radio

Lenawee County is being countersued by the ACLU of Michigan and the private law firm of Wright and Schulte on behalf of 14 Amish families.

That's after the county filed lawsuits seeking permission to demolish the Amish families' homes because they use hand-drawn well water and outhouses.

The county says the lack of modern plumbing and septic systems violates the health code and is a threat to public health.

The families began moving into Lenawee County from nearby Hillsdale County about three years ago, in order to seek additional land for their children to farm. They say Hillsdale County allowed them to live according to their religious traditions.

Credit Tracy Samilton / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio
An outhouse used by an Amish family in Lenawee County.

ACLU attorney Phil Mayor says the families' way of life isn't hurting anyone.  

"And what the county is doing here is attempting essentially to banish an entire religious community from its borders by making it impossible for them to abide by their faith while residing within the county," says Mayor.

The counterclaim says Lenawee County is violating the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, the Religious Liberty clause of the Michigan Constitution, and the federal Fair Housing Act. The counterclaim also asks for an injunction to prevent the county from evicting the families and tearing down their homes.

One Amish woman said finding a "condemned" notice 

Amish well windmill
Credit Tracy Samilton / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio
This Amish family uses a windmill to draw water from its outside well.

tacked to her front door felt "unreal." 

She says she is frightened every time a car drives onto the property for fear it is the county sheriff arriving to evict them.

County officials say they tried to come to a resolution with the families prior to filing the lawsuits. They say this is the first time members of Old Order Amish have attempted to reside in the county.  

County administrator Martin Marshall says they're not treating the Amish any differently than other property owners. 

Another county official suggested there are alternative ways the Amish could abide by the county health code, such as installing solar panels to pump water from their wells, rather than hooking up to the grid's electricity.

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Public. She began her career at Michigan Public as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.