Appeals court: Amish man failed to show sincere religious objection to zoning permit

Howard Friedman, Religious Clause

In County of Jackson v. Borntreger, (WI App., July 19, 2012), a Wisconsin state appellate court, in a civil forfeiture action, rejected a claim by defendant, a member of the Amish faith, that applying for a county zoning permit before constructing a saw mill on his property would have unconstitutionally violated his religious freedom. The court concluded that neither defendant nor others who spoke on his behalf in court established that he held a sincere religious belief that was burdened by enforcement of the zoning law. The court said:

No oral or written religion tradition is cited, beyond the general reference to “their [Amish] religion.” No specific religious rule or tenet is described. In effect, Douglas [who spoke for defendant] generically applies the word “religion” to the same idea already expressed by Borntreger about his preference for a less complicated application process, without explaining what religious tenet or tradition would be burdened. Beliefs in general concepts of non-conformity or simplicity, without further explanation or specificity, are simply too general and vague to support a finding that any particular aspect of enforcement of the zoning ordinance burdens a sincerely held religious belief.

Yesterday’s Winona Daily News reports on the decision.