Posted by: Patricia Salkin | August 1, 2008

Enforcement of the Building Code Does Not Violate RLUIPA nor Discriminate Against Amish

A Town Justice Court denied a request by a group of Amish residents to dismiss charges of failure to follow building code based upon religious beliefs. After being charged with violations of the building code for building without permits, and in one case, moving a building without a permit, several members of the Amish community  moved to dismiss the charges alleging a violation of their constitutional rights and discriminatory enforcement.  Specifically, the defendants allege that the building code infringes upon their religious freedom since one of their religious tenants states, “…and be not conformed to this world…” The Court said that the Amish desire “not to conform to this world must be reasonably and rationally tempered with required compliance to regulations imposed by a town and society in which they are citizens.” Further, the Court repeated the rule that a  generally applicable and otherwise valid law, not intended to regulate religious conduct or beliefs but which may incidentally burden the free exercise of religion, does not violate the First Amendment.


As to the claim that the building code violates RLUIPA, the Court said that “A religious institution does not receive unencumbered rights to zoning approvals for non-religious uses,”  and that the Law “regulates conduct and not religious belief and in doing so it advances a legitimate state interest in building safety and does so in a minimally intrusive manner.”  The Court explained that the law was drafted to “guard against structural failure, fire, and other hazards attributed to the built environment…put in place for the safety of all in mind and without discrimination…” The Court concluded that the safety goal of the building code is compelling governmental interest. With respect to the claim of religious discrimination, the Court found that the “Law does not, nor is it intended to, violate any ethnic or religious group, or any individual of any Religious Freedom of Civil Rights.”


People v. Miller (Decision and Order, Town of Morristown Justice Court 7/23/2008 )


The opinion can be accessed from the First Amendment Inside the Amish Swartzentruber Sect Blog at:


For a current article on RLUIPA, see:


Thanks to Dwight Merriam, Esq. of Robinson & Cole in Hartford, CT for forwarding this case.


  1. I wholly disagee. How can you force Old Order Amish to have smoke detectors and other new technology. Their refusal to use new technologies long predates the building code.

    Since the State Code claims one of its purposes is to “require new and existing building alike to keep pace with the advances in technology concerning fire prevention and building construction” it is not neutral on its face, but is spicifically targeting the Old Order Amish. No way around that one.

    The fact that the Amish homes are also places of worship on a rotating basis makes it impossible for Amish to live or have “churches” in towns that strictly enforce the code.

    I’m with the Amish on this one.

    Amish are easy targets because they don’t vote and don’t oppose authority. I’ve heard Karen Johnson-Weiner (Prof. of Anthropology at SUNY Potsday) speak about Amish beliefs. I’m convinced that the NYS and US Constitutions support that 400 year old religous beliefs and customs trump local building codes.

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