Government officials in Wisconsin tried to force a family of eight people to choose between their faith and a building code.
Amos and Vera Borntreger and their six children were nearly evicted from their off-grid home because it lacked, among other things, smoke detectors as mandated by the Uniform Dwelling Code or UDC.
A judge actually issued an order evicting the Borntregers from their home in Eau Claire County, Wisconsin, before common sense prevailed, Wisconsin Watchdog reported. The Borntregers are Old Order Amish who believe that some modern technologies, including electronics, should be avoided.
County building inspectors tried to force them and 400 other Amish residents to install battery-operated smoke detectors in their homes as mandated by the UDC.
“Eau Claire County has the unfortunate distinction of being the only county in the United States that has used placard eviction to put an Amish family out of their home,” said David Mortimer, the spokesman for the local chapter of the National Committee for Amish Religious Freedom.
Mortimer was referring to Henry and Sara Mast, an elderly Amish couple evicted from their home in 2012 because they refused to install smoke detectors. Unlike the Masts, the Borntregers were not actually evicted, but the county tried.
“To ask a county to waive or to exempt someone from state code is an odd situation in and of itself,” said Lance Gurney, Eau Claire County’s planning and development department manager. “Nowhere else do we have the authority to waive or exempt someone from complying with state code.”
State Legislature to the Rescue
The Borntregers were able to stay in their home by following a waiver process approved by the Wisconsin state legislature that applies to all residents. State Rep. Kathy Bernier (R-Lake Hallie), who represents Eau Claire County, authored legislation creating the waiver after hearing about the Borntregers’ plight. Under the new law, residents can appeal to the state Department of Safety Professional Standards for a waiver if the rules conflict with sincerely held religious beliefs.
“Now that they have the waiver and are exempt from having to comply with the parts of Uniform Dwelling Code that violate their religious beliefs, they can follow the remaining procedure to comply with the permitting process,” the Borntregers’ attorney, Matthew Krische, told Wisconsin Watchdog.
A number of Amish families in Eau Claire County, including the Masts, have gotten around the UDC by installing smoke detectors for inspectors and then having someone remove them after the inspector left, the website said. But the practice is controversial among Amish, many of whom consider it deceitful.
What is your reaction to this story? Is this government overreach? Share your views in the section below: