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Group of Amish families refuses to install fire detectors in their homes

Rich Kremer, Wisconsin Public Radio A group of Amish families in Eau Claire County have avoided eviction from their homes by agreeing to apply for building permits, though they still refuse to install fire detectors as part of the state's uniform...

Rich Kremer, Wisconsin Public Radio

A group of Amish families in Eau Claire County have avoided eviction from their homes by agreeing to apply for building permits, though they still refuse to install fire detectors as part of the state’s uniform building code, and are likely to wind up back in court.

The five families were ordered to apply for and sign the building permits for homes completed as early as 2011. Under the state’s Uniform Dwelling Code, which Eau Claire County enforces, the families are required to install smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. The families, however, argue that installing such detectors violates their religious freedom.

Attorney Matthew Krische said his clients believe god will protect them, not electronic devices.

“The problem is that the Old Order Amish viewed the language ‘subject to’ as an agreement to those laws,” said Krische. “Their view was if they sign the permit they would be agreeing to follow these laws, which by their own conscience they cannot follow.”

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Krische said his clients agreed to sign the permits, but wrote the term “under protest” below their names, signaling they wouldn’t follow the law. He said this keeps his clients in their homes while one of the cases is appealed.

“We need some precedent in this state. We need a higher court to look at this issue and make a determination of whether religious rights were or were not violated,” said Krische.

Eau Claire County attorney Heather Wolske said this isn’t about religion - rather, she said, it’s about following the law as it’s written. For now, she said the court is satisfied the families will sign, but that after inspections there may be more litigation.

“Obviously if they don’t want to install the smoke detectors and the CO detectors, then we’ll probably be back in court for another hearing to address those specific issues,” said Wolske.

The families have 45 days to submit their appeal with the Wisconsin Court of Appeals.

 

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