The state is expected to appeal a Clark County judge’s ruling that allows an Amish man to continue to operate his farm without registering livestock in accordance to law, state assistant veterinarian Paul McGraw said.
Judge Jon Counsell issued a nine-page ruling Tuesday afternoon ordering the court to dismiss the charge filed against Emanuel Miller, 29, of Loyal in October 2008 for failing to comply with the state’s 2005 mandatory livestock registration law. It was the first case involving an Amish farmer challenging the state’s registration law.
The Amish believe the registration’s use of numbers is the first step in moving closer to the “Mark of the Beast,” referenced in the Bible’s book of Revelations and believed to be associated with Satan.
Proponents of the law say the registration allows officials to quickly track animals that could be impacted by a disease outbreak, McGraw said. Wisconsin’s department of agriculture continues to stand behind its belief that mandatory registration is beneficial to tracking disease, despite the court’s ruling, he said.
“I’m not sure there will be a huge impact at this point,” McGraw said of the ruling. “The department is likely to appeal. Everyone still needs to register their livestock.”
Miller testified that if he participated in the registration, he would risk eternal damnation, a statement supported by his community’s leader, Bishop Noah Schwartz.
In a brief filed Dec. 22, the state argued that a premises registration number is no different from other numbers, such as addresses. Only three states have mandatory registration, while 47 have voluntary registration, McGraw said.
However, Counsell wrote in his ruling that the number is just one part of Miller’s concern. It also requires him to put his faith in government, not God, which goes against Amish beliefs.
Registration is an “impermissible burden upon Miller’s religious beliefs,” Counsell wrote.
Counsell cited several flaws in the law, including that it will never reach 100 percent compliance and does not require the registered farmers to have a telephone, requiring state officials to still go door to door at some farms.
There is “no concrete evidence that premises registration serves the interest of promoting health and food safety better than other alternatives, which it must do to withstand this challenge,” Counsell noted.
Counsell wrote that Miller complies with other regulations, including providing his name and address when buying and selling livestock, which provides sufficient information for locating his animals.
Bill Herr, a Greenwood dairy farmer who owns about 165 cattle, said the premises registration is a benefit for tracking disease, as well as for the industry’s image. All of his animals are registered.
“Our livelihood is pretty dependent on how people view our product, how safe it is,” Herr said. “If there was a health issue, it would be very valuable information to know where these animals are being raised.”
Miller’s conviction, the court said, is supported by his statement that he “would accept government punishment or leave the state before violating his religious beliefs.”
Herr, despite his support of registration, said someone with serious religious convictions should not be subject to something that would infringe upon beliefs.
“I can respect religious beliefs, though. I have my own,” he said. “Just because they’re different from someone else’s doesn’t mean they’re wrong.”