MORRISTOWN — Morristown is continuing to cite the Amish for building homes without permits while a federal lawsuit accusing the town of religious discrimination is pending.
Moise L. Swartzentruber, of 151 Stowe Road, was charged in late February. He’s the 12th Amish man since 2006 to be charged with failure to comply with building codes in Morristown.
Code Enforcement Officer Lanetta Kay Davis cited Mr. Swartzentruber over an addition made to his Stowe Road home last year. He is accused of not submitting a building plan to the town for the addition.
Mr. Swartzentruber is scheduled for arraignment March 18 before Town Judge James T. Phillips Jr., court officials said Wednesday. Ms. Davis declined to comment Wednesday
According to court documents, Ms. Davis in May noticed the addition being built. She sent a letter to Mr. Swartzentruber informing him of the building code violation, which had to be corrected by June 22.
Both parties met July 1 to discuss the matter. Ms. Davis provided Mr. Swartzentruber with an extension to Aug. 13, allowing him time to talk with his group.
On July 28, he informed the town that he wouldn’t submit a building plan. Both parties met again on Aug. 13, with no agreement reached because “the defendant stated that no inspections would be allowed.”
Eleven Amish families sued the town of Morristown in January 2009 over alleged religious discrimination.
“We’re sorry to see that Morristown is continuing its crusade against the Amish,” said Lori H. Windham, an attorney for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, Washington, D.C., who is representing the Amish families in the federal lawsuit.
The Amish say the town refuses to issue permits that allow them to build homes according to their beliefs. The Amish, members of the Old Order Swartzentruber sect, say their religious beliefs will be violated if the town forces them to install smoke detectors in their homes, submit engineering plans and allow home inspections.
The lawsuit says the Amish will be forced to leave the town if they cannot build their homes and farms.
The cases against the 11 Amish men have been delayed for more than a year for various reasons, including a lengthy search for an interpreter.
The lawsuit says the town is selectively enforcing the law against the Amish to effectively force them from the community.
Morristown Town Council members said previously that they must enforce building codes because turning a blind eye to the Amish will create unfair enforcement. Building codes are set by state law but enforced by municipalities.
The lawsuit also contends that Ms. Davis has made several postings on a Web site devoted to criticism of the Swartzentruber Amish religion, culture and practices. She also reportedly asked “nearby jurisdictions to take a hard line on code enforcement and issue citations to the Amish in their towns.”
Swartzentruber Amish also have encountered building code disputes in Hammond, Western New York, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. The 11 Amish men do not deny the charges, but say code requirements violate their right to freely exercise their religion.
An attempt to reach an out-of-court settlement failed in December. The case before U.S. District Court in Albany will be scheduled for trial, likely late this year or in early 2011.