Tuesday, June 05, 2007

First Amendment & Building Permits

Normally, the two items above are based in separate areas of law without a lot of overlap. Journey with me, if you will, using my best Rod Serling voice, to St. Lawrence County. The issue: five Amish families who failed to obtain permits for various projects.

This is the sort of question I would often post to my Civil Liberties/Con Law students: a law that isn't related to religion on its face, but that has an impact on a specific religious group. Although, it seems (according to the article) that the Amish typically obtain permits--but that's not necessary information for the hypothetical.

From an administrative law standpoint, however, it seems there are also questions about the complexity of the permit process--if a layman can't apply, it seems that there's a flaw in the system.

Hopefully the coverage of this unique story continues.


Anonymous codes said...

The permit process is relatively simple -- submit plans, an application and have the required inspections. Most laymen have no problem with the process. Those that have difficulty are helped on an individual basis.

There is more to the story than what is seen in the paper. The building codes and procedures have not changed in the last four years, and this particular Amish sect had complied with those requirements until one year ago. Although nothing had changed on the building code procedure side, something changed on the Amish side.

Building codes are a matter of safety; safety for the home-owners, safety for the public, and safety for our brave firefighters who would risk their lives to save others. Structural collapse or fire know no boundaries such a religious beliefs or a church's traditions, and building codes are implemented to help protect against such catastrophes'.

Another point to look at is what happens to the next family that owns that home. Do they have a reasonable expectation to believe a home built in 2007 was built to the building code in place at that time? Several Amish homes have been sold to non-Amish recently, so there is always the possibility of these homes being passed to someone outside of their religious affiliation. Would you want your child to buy a home without the assurance that it met minimum safety standards, a.k.a. building code?

Several Amish Bishops have stated that the building code issue is not against their religion, but it is against their tradition. Does that make a difference? Not sure.

Thank you for listening.

1:25 PM  
Blogger TMT said...

From my experiences with building permits, I have always experienced the situation as you describe. The article raises the complexity question, which makes me wonder if perhaps there's an education/literacy component to the issue as well.

11:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I find it interesting that most people do not realise that this is sincerely the issue of whether or not the Amish follow the law and lose their standing in the Amish community or follow their religious practice and lose in the court system.

They have the right to practice their religion. It is in the 1st Ammendment. It is recognised that the daily lifestyle of the Amish is the practice of their faith (Wisconsin v. Yoder) And the 14th Ammendment states that no one shall make laws that abridge the first ten ammendments.

While we can argue that there is an issue of public safety for the future and that they should be concerned with the safety of their families etc. we still need to recognise that we can and should protect their freedom to act in accordance with their beliefs.

Another point that must be made is that the Amish of Morristown did all apply for building permits on April 30. 2007. They were turned down by the Code Enforcement Officer who then issued appearence tickets to four of the five men.

1:49 AM  

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