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Amish fight order to install smoke detectors

EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (AP) — A judge is set to hear cases this week involving four Amish families who failed to obtain certain building permits, on the grounds that complying would require them to install electronic equipment that violates their religious beliefs.

State law requires that all new homes have detectors for smoke and carbon monoxide. However, the Amish don’t use electronic devices, considering them modern conveniences that violate their religion, the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram reported.

The cases are slated for a scheduling conference Wednesday afternoon in Eau Claire County.

The families — two from the town of Bridge Creek and two from the town of Fairchild — could face eviction or be forced to pay $52,000 in accumulated fines if the court rules against them.

County officials say they don’t want to see that happen, but that they are required to enforce housing codes uniformly.

“Unless the courts or the law tells us differently, we enforce it equally on everybody to the best of our ability,” said James Erickson, the director of the county’s planning and development department.

In response to the stalemate, state Rep. Kathy Bernier, R-Lake Hallie, has introduced a bill that would exempt one- and two-family homes with no electricity from laws requiring smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.

Bernier said she hopes the bill will pass in the next session early enough to prevent the families from being evicted or fined.

“My heart goes out to them. … They truly live their religious beliefs, and they harm no one,” she said. “They’re just living the same life our ancestors did when they first moved here.”

Erickson countered that smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are especially needed in Amish houses because residents heat their homes with wood. He said he didn’t favor the bill because of the health and safety risks it poses, but his office would enforce whatever regulations lawmakers impose.

The defendants are Eli Gingerich, Clemens Borntreger, Mahlon Miller Jr. and Roman Borntrager.

Information from: Leader-Telegram, http://www.leadertelegram.com/

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