With their latest victory in Lenawee County, Michigan, Wright & Schulte is now 3 – 0 in their legal battles with various County governments’ intrusions and violations of Amish homes, of the Amish way of life, and of the Amish right to religious freedom under the United States Constitution.
Our law firm’s journey with the Amish began on November 1, 2018. The Shelby County, Ohio Board of Health previously sued Amish families for practicing the lifestyle their followers had enjoyed safely and peaceably for hundreds of years. The County sued to condemn their houses and run them out of the County. The Amish families only had days to respond to the lawsuit, and they turned to our firm to help. Led by Attorneys Richard Schulte and Stephen Behnke, our firm saw the opportunity to change the lives of a large, productive, and peaceful group of people and seized it.
Working pro bono, our attorneys immediately went to work to save the Amish families’ homes and protect their way of life. We submitted numerous court filings to assert the Amish families’ First Amendment right to the free exercise of their religion in their daily lives. The attorneys then put together a team of experts from around the country. Wright & Schulte also worked tirelessly to discover information about the practices of the Shelby County Building and Sewage Departments to show why it was in the interests of the Amish–and all citizens of Shelby County–to work with the Amish to protect their way of life.
On the eve of trial, Wright & Schulte reached a settlement with Shelby County that not only allowed the Amish to continue living in their homes but let them do so consistent with their Constitutionally enshrined right to practice their religion consistent with their spiritual beliefs.
Amish communities are in constant communication, and word of our efforts spread. Mere months after reaching this critical settlement, the Lenawee County, Michigan Amish community reached out to our firm because the same crisis reached their doorsteps. On November 1, 2019, the Lenawee County Health Department sued every Amish family in its County. In their lawsuits, Lenawee County literally demanded an order to demolish every Amish home and then order the Amish to pay for the cost of doing so. For the second time, our law firm immediately went to work to protect an Amish community that only had days to respond before it lost its homes and way of life. Little did we know at the time, this battle would last almost four years.
While the Lenawee County, Michigan lawsuit continued, a third Amish community requested our help, this time in Adams County, Indiana. The Adams County authorities sought to force Amish families to hook up to its newly built municipal sewer, in clear violation of their religious beliefs and conscience. The municipal sewer would have also required the Amish families to use electricity at home to connect to the sewer. Adams County thus demanded the Amish violate their religious beliefs in two ways: by connecting to the sewer system and by using electricity at home.
With the Michigan case pending, and unafraid to fight injustice on two fronts, we sued in federal court on January 13, 2021. We asked the federal Court to block Adams County’s attempt to force the Amish to violate their own religious beliefs. After significant litigation, the parties settled, and Adams County dropped its demand that the Amish connect to the sewer system.
For the Amish, their carefully considered daily life choices in matters like dress, home decoration, sewage disposal, and use and nonuse of certain technologies are intertwined with their devotion to God. The United States Constitution protects their right and desire to live in a manner that mirrors their religious beliefs and causes no harm to their neighbors or community.
Lenawee County inexplicably sought to trample those rights. During litigation, our attorneys demonstrated that its Health Department knew that large businesses were polluting the environment on a wide scale and yet did nothing to stop them while devoting taxpayer resources to try to banish Amish families who were harming no one. Lenawee County’s protection of polluting big businesses and persecution of safe, peaceful Amish families is the epitome of governmental abuse of power.
For this case, our law firm worked with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Michigan and received valued assistance from Attorney Jacob Bender of Cooper and Bender in Adrian, Michigan. Although our firm may not necessarily agree with the ACLU on every issue, we greatly respect their many years working to protect the religious rights of persecuted minorities, like the Amish. We thank them for offering their impressive legal expertise and devoting many hours to the fight for religious freedom in this case. Our firm also gives special thanks to Daniel Evilsizor who has worked with us on these cases from the beginning through investigation and communications. His work and unique insights have been very important in these battles.
After four years of litigation, and less than two months before trial, our legal team finalized a settlement with Lenawee County. Our team’s hard work led to a detailed and comprehensive settlement that protected the Amish right to live a life consistent with their devotion to God. All Americans should recognize the importance of this principle as represented in this settlement, which can be read here. Under this settlement, the Amish will not have to use electricity in their homes, and they can continue to farm safely and productively as their forebears have for centuries.
In a warning to other local governments that may consider persecuting the Amish in violation of the United States Constitution, the Lenawee County Health Department agreed to pay our law firms $425,000 toward legal fees and expenses. We are confident if there was a trial the Court would have ordered Lenawee County to pay a significantly higher amount for our thousands of hours of work. That said, we believe the $425,000 payment is large enough to serve as a warning to other governments that may consider abusing their power and persecuting the Amish. Any government that does not heed that warning should know that Wright & Schulte will come for them, just as we have been doing for years now.
Time Stamped Final Settlement