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Amish case is about religion, zoning — depending on whom you ask

By The Associated Press


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BELLEFONTE, Pa. — An attorney for two Amish men cited for keeping horses on their properties says township officials are trying to restrict religious practice.

The lawyer, James M. Bryant, said a Walker Township, Centre County, zoning ordinance was a means of keeping the Amish out of certain areas. The ordinance's language, which specifically bars horses instead of a broader prohibition against keeping livestock, showed that it was targeted at the Amish, he said.

"You can have ducks. You can have cows. You can have sheep. You can have burros. ... You can't have horses," Bryant said. "It's just subtle prejudice."

District Justice Daniel R. Hoffman said on Jan. 9 that the zoning dispute should return to Common Pleas court to protect the due-process rights of the defendants, Daniel Lee King, 26, and Daniel Beiler, 30. They have been given 30 days to appeal their case.

In November 2000, Walker Township, about 20 miles northeast of State College, amended its zoning codes to prohibit keeping horses on property zoned R-3, or multifamily residential.

David Consiglio, the attorney for the zoning board, said the ordinance was meant to keep livestock out of areas zoned for multifamily dwellings, where people are more likely to live in close quarters.

"It comes down to a matter of zoning. It doesn't have anything to do with religion," Consiglio said.

Donald B. Kraybill, senior fellow at the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Groups at Elizabethtown College, said the law was the latest example of conflict between Amish and their predominantly non-Amish neighbors.

In Illinois, a new law allows local governments to charge up to $50 to license Amish buggies to help pay for road damage caused by buggy wheels and shod horses. And in Clinton County — just a few miles up the road from Walker Township — officials in Greene Township last year tabled a similar measure after getting complaints that it unfairly targeted the Amish.

Kraybill said the use of horse and buggy were essential to Amish cultural and religious practice, and that the Walker Township ordinance would severely impede the ability of local Amish to live according to their norms.

He added: "This is a religious practice which really collides with modern culture, ... and what is interesting in this case is the question: Because of that religious practice, will that exclude the Amish from living in certain areas? How does the state balance the need for the freedom of [religion for] groups like the Amish to practice their faith, and yet support the right of local authorities ... to establish guidelines that in some way might exclude the Amish?"

The Amish generally shun modern conveniences such as electricity, telephones and cars. They have traditionally worked in agriculture, but moved into other industries as farming became less profitable.

King and Beiler each were given citations last month for keeping a horse on property that is zoned to prohibit horses. Judge Hoffman was scheduled to hear arguments yesterday regarding the penalty, but said it was unclear whether King and Beiler were aware that they could have appealed the zoning board's decision.

"I have to make sure they have their due process," Hoffman said. "I'm not saying, gentlemen, that anyone robbed you of your due process. I'm just saying I can't definitively know that you were told of your due process."

King bought a house and 0.8 acres in a multifamily residential zone a year ago and was notified in the spring that he was in violation of the zoning ordinance. He brought the matter before the county's Zoning Hearing Board in July, but the board denied his appeal.

In December, King was cited for continuing to violate the ordinance. Beiler, who also keeps a horse on his property, also was cited.

But Hoffman said the transcripts from the Zoning Hearing Board proceedings did not make clear that King could appeal the decision to the Court of Common Pleas. His Jan. 9 decision gave King and Beiler 30 days to make that appeal; if they don't, the case would return to Hoffman's court for the penalty phase.

King said after the hearing that they would file the appeal. "I think that's our only choice," he said.


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