Yoder v. Morristown, New York

    • *Becket Fund represents Daniel Mast, a skilled Amish tradesman, against policies that force him to violate his religious beliefs

    • Swartzentruber Amish have been living peaceably in Morristown, New York for decades.

A community of Swartzentruber Amish has been living peaceably in Morristown, New York for decades, and though they practice a traditional form of the Amish faith, they had never had trouble obtaining building permits or legally maintaining their homes and property.  This changed in 2006 when the Amish began to receive tickets from the town government, which claimed that the Amish building practices were not compliant with the building code. The Amish could no longer obtain building permits because they refused to install battery-powered smoke detectors, use certified architectural plans, or install hurricane tie-downs, among other things. The Amish feared that if the town’s course of action continued, the entire community would be forced to leave Morristown because they would be unable to live in accordance with their religious beliefs.

The Becket Fund and the New York-based firm Proskauer Rose LLP represented twelve Amish men in a suit petitioning a New York federal district court to end Morristown’s continued violation of the Amish community’s rights under the United States and New York constitutions. Public Defender Steve Ballan represented the Amish in their criminal cases.

“The U.S. Constitution, and legal precedent all the way to the Supreme Court, are clear. The Amish, who are known throughout the world as master craftsmen and master builders, have the right to practice their beliefs.  That includes building and living in homes that conform to those beliefs,” said Eric Rassbach, Becket Fund Deputy General Counsel, when the lawsuit was filed.

In 2012, the Amish and Morristown signed a settlement agreement which dismissed all criminal charges against the Amish, and allowed them to continue to practice their traditional building methods in Morristown.  The Amish agreed to use certain traditional practices recognized as safe under the state building code.  The Town inspected the Amish homes and deemed them compliant with the law.

“This is great news for the Amish in New York and across the country,” said Lori Windham, Senior Counsel at The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.  “This settlement shows that towns and religious communities can work together cooperatively.”

***

For more information, or to arrange an interview with one of the attorneys, please contact Emily Hardman, Communications Director, at ehardman@becketfund.org or call 202.349.7224.


*Photo by Jennifer Meyers. (c) Post-Standard.  All rights reserved.  Used with permission of The Post-Standard.

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Becket Fund Recognizes Proskauer with First-Ever Legal Service Award, Proskauer (May 20, 2013)

Partner Michael Mervis And Senior Counsel Russell Hirschhorn Honored For Pro Bono Efforts, The Metropolitan Corporate Counsel (May 22, 2013)

Amish Sue New York Town For Discrimination Over Building Code Enforcement, The Associated Press (January 6, 2009)

Amish file lawsuit concerning building codes, Debra J. Groom, The Post Standard (January 6, 2009)

Amish suing over Morristown code denials, David Winters, Watertown Daily News (January 7, 2009)