The Schwartzentruber Amish in Cambria County, Pennsylvania, went back to court to seek relief from the harsh penalties imposed by county judge Norman Krumenacker earlier this year. On the judge’s orders, an Amish school was padlocked in March by county sheriffs because the outhouses near the school did not meet state and county specifications for proper construction. The judge sent the Amish man who owns the land to the county jail for 90 days for defying his orders. In May, the same judge ordered sheriffs to lock two Amish family homes for similar violations of sewage codes.
David Beyer, an attorney in Ebensburg, the county seat, appealed to the judge to allow the Amish children to attend school. According to news reports, school authorities believe the Amish parents are educating their children in their own homes, but the officials have not verified that. Beyer was certain they were not teaching in a schoolroom setting. Mr. Beyer also appealed the eviction order against the two Amish families who were locked out of their homes.
The attorney filed an emergency petition asking the judge to grant the Amish special relief. He said that installing the code-specified sewage facilities would violate their religious beliefs. He also argued that their present method of disposing their outhouse wastes poses no danger to anyone. He said that the Schwartzentrubers have been agonizing over their options since the judge expelled them from their homes and their school.
Beyer explained that the Amish will not resist governmental authority, and they practice Gelassenheit, which he defines as “submission to God’s will, self-surrender, yielding to others’ quiet spirit, lower voice, gentle strides.” He indicated that the children are being made to suffer because their school is padlocked, and one of the two homes may be suffering from mildew because it is closed up.
The county, predictably, is opposed to any relief for the Amish. William Barbin, attorney for the county sewage and building codes agencies, expressed the opposition of the government until the Amish make the changes that they require. “[The Amish] seem to be saying that because they are suffering, the order should be changed. That’s not what should be done.”
Last Tuesday, the attorney and 12 of the Schwartzentruber men met with the judge in a closed-door session, since the Amish indicated they did not want to confront Mr. Krumenacker again on the witness stand. Mary Schwartzentruber, one of the family members expelled from her home, left the courtroom weeping. “It’s so much against our religious beliefs. I just wish we could have worked something out,” she said.
The judge did not change any of his previous orders, except to allow the Amish to use portable toilets temporarily, so long as they accept the responsibility of erecting approved sewage facilities as a long-term solution. The Schwartzentruber Amish believe that all modern conveniences—including state-prescribed outhouses—violate their religious convictions.