Tuesday, October 23, 2018

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EC County given petition backing Amish rights

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The wish to protect Amish religious freedom is why David Mortimer and Rachel Lane presented a petition of over 1,300 signatures Tuesday night during the public comment period of the Eau Claire County Board meeting.

Mortimer and Lane are members of the National Committee for Amish Religious Freedom, Eau Claire Chapter. They said the petition took 15 days to compile in March and represents Eau Claire County residents who think Amish should be exempt from building requirements that violate their beliefs. They collected the signatures on paper and online at change.org.

The petition was presented after Mortimer and Lane told the board that, in late August, John W. Yoder of rural Augusta submitted the first application in Eau Claire County for a religious waiver of compliance with the Uniform Dwelling Code. 

Yoder is Amish, and the waiver, which was put into legislation when Gov. Scott Walker signed the 2015-17 state budget, protects him from provisions in the code that require smoke and carbon monoxide detectors as well as modern plumbing.

Eau Claire County denied his application, sending it to the state for review. This could mean several more weeks of waiting to build a home for his Old Order Amish family and each week brings him closer to winter.

“I think we should take a deep breath and ask, ‘What have we done here?’ ” Mortimer said. “Our country should be a place where all religions are free, including the Amish.”

Lane said she doesn’t understand how the county can approve or deny a religious waiver.

“It’s about their compliance with God,” Lane said. “To have a smoke alarm to protect them rather than God is against their beliefs.”

Mortimer and Lane met on a Facebook group of about 1,600 members dedicated to protecting the religious freedom of the Amish and, even though they don’t practice the Amish lifestyle themselves, they felt compelled to help.

“It’s not about us.” Lane said. “It’s about respecting diversity, and that’s what our country was founded on.”

Mortimer suggested the board appoint a committee to focus on education about the Amish and their beliefs.

“We should be working with them, rather than against them,” he said of the Amish families. “It would be so much better for Eau Claire County to use taxpayer money for education about the Amish than this.”

No supervisors gave any response to the comments from Mortimer and Lane. 

Contact: 715-833-9203, breane.lyga@ecpc.com, @breane_lyga on Twitter

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