Couple: Septic system violates Amish beliefs

A southeast Minnesota Amish couple faces a third misdemeanor charge for allegedly building a home without a permit.

They say a county ordinance that requires the installation of a septic system violates their religious beliefs.

Ammon and Sarah Swartzentruber are in their mid-20s. They say they've spent about $50,000 to build a home in Harmony, Minnesota, near the Iowa border, to accommodate their growing family of three children.

But earlier this year, Fillmore County zoning officials cited the couple for building a house without a permit. They entered a not guilty plea a few months ago, but County Attorney Brett Corson said they've continued to work on the home.

In court Wednesday, Corson showed pictures of windows and doors that have been installed on the property, work that violated conditions of the couple's release on the earlier charges.

• NewsCut: Does a septic system violate religious freedom?

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"Just like most counties, we have a zoning process, so before someone can build a house or put on an addition or improvement onto their property, they have to come in and get a permit from zoning," Corson said. "The allegation that's here is that they did not come and get that permit before they put up their house."

Fillmore County District Judge Matthew Opat agreed and ordered the Swartzentrubers to not enter the home or do any additional work until the issue is resolved in court. The Swartzentruber's trial has been set for Jan. 8.

After the hearing, Ammon Swartzentruber said the work on the house was done by friends and relatives, not by him or his wife.

"I wasn't prepared for the order we got," he said. "We can't enter the house or get within 5 feet of the house and my biggest concern was with water lines freezing in the basement and also the foundation — frost, that could be a problem."

The legal issue involves county regulations as of December 2013 requiring a septic system for new homes. Such a system, however is considered a modern day convenience that goes against Amish beliefs and lifestyle, Ammon Swartzentruber said.

A second Amish couple from Harmony was also in court today facing similar charges for building without a permit.