Ruling: Amish families with new homes will need permits

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An Eau Claire Co. judge has ruled four Amish families who built new homes must apply for a building permit. If not, they could lose their homes.

Homes built before 2006 are exempt but new homes need permits. Defense attorney Matthew Krische said the Amish families didn't want to sign the building permit applications because it would require them to install smoke detectors and carbon monoxide alarms which goes against religious beliefs.

But because of the judge's ruling on Friday, Krische said for the time being, the families will sign it "under protest," meaning they're signing it because they have to, although they don't agree.

"Obviously it's not the decision that we had wanted. we were hoping to get passed summary judgment and go towards a trial. with the summary judgment decision, the court basically ruled that there are no more facts that are in dispute," said Krische.

"At this point, we are having a serious discussion about whether to appeal the cases. Right now we don't have any precedence in this state. There's actually no direction from our state supreme court or from our appellate court as to which way these cases are supposed to go," said Krische.

David Mortimer is an expert on the Amish. He was an expert witness in one of the cases.

"Some religious communities think that that modern technology means they don't trust in God," said Mortimer. "In the 1860's, Amish communities decided they would not put lightning rods on their homes because that was a new technology."

Mortimer said young couples are getting married and they need to build new homes and that's why these families ended up in court.

Assistant Corporation Council Heather Wolske with Eau Claire Co. said these are the first type of cases like this she has seen.

"Until the law changes we are required to treat every person the same no matter of their race, religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity. The code applies to everyone the same way," said Wolske.

She said the county wants them to comply for safety purposes.

Wolske said one family from a previous case has already signed the building permit under protest.

"That is fine. We'll just proceed as is. They still agree then for the inspector to go on the property to inspect if anything is still wrong with the property," she said.

Once the applications are turned in, she said a building inspector will check out the homes to see if they meet permit guidelines. But if the homes don't comply, since they are already living in the new homes, they will receive a notice to correct violations within a certain timeframe.

"If they don't comply, they will need to vacate the home until the items are fixed," she said.

Rep. Kathy Bernier tried make a legislative change so that the Amish is exempt from the code in the last session, but it didn't go through.

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