An Amish man appealed to my husband for aid, and the story was brought to me. A local township had walked into an Amish school in the middle of the school day, taken possession of it, and locked it up.
It's a long drawn out story, years in the making, but winnowing it down to the bare facts, it goes like this: the township has run sewer lines. Several of these lines cross Amish property. The Amish, of course, do not tap into them. They do not have indoor plumbing. The township is insisting that the Amish pay a monthly sewage payment ($65) anyway.
To me, it is simple. It would be like an electric company insisting on payment from the Amish because the lines pass in front of their homes. They don't. Their bills are sent out based on usage. The Amish don't use electricity, so they don't get a bill.
Yet the township has spent lots of money fighting this, and have placed liens on Amish properties. The Yoder farm, a spread worth a couple hundred thousand dollars has been sold to a neighbor for $27,000 over unpaid sewage bills. That sale is being fought in court even now and the deed has not transferred.
The Amish do not believe in hiring attorneys. However, if an attorney offers them his services, they will take him up on it. Unfortunately, I believe they have a lawyer who is worth just about what he is being paid.
The appeal to the sale of the school house was not done within the time frame. Their lawyer claims that there was no notification. It's a bit tricky. Somewhere along the line, the deed to the school was attributed to The Old Amish Order. Correspondence was sent to them. A member of that order traveled from another state to tell them that this was not their concern, leading me to wonder if this was legal advice offered early on to 'protect' the building from legal action (think separation of church and state).
When asked about contact, the lawyer had said there was no school board, that the 19 school children were educated in accordance with the teachings of the local Amish community. No names were provided, no points of contact. I'm sure the lawyer felt himself very clever.
And so, the school was sold, for a little over $2000.
The lawyer could have appealed it then, but did not.
The township resorted to self help, walking in and taking over the school in front of the students.
The lawyer could have challenged that seizure in court. He did not.
Now, three months later, he came in to try to have the deed transfer voided.
Today, I sat in court and I listened. The case started at 9:30. The bailiff was sent to look for the lawyer and his Amish clients. The I listened to the laughter from the other side as they ridiculed the challenge to their authority.
Finally, it began, and the lawyer's strategy seemed to be (from where I sat anyways, which was directly behind three Amish men) a continuation of his legal machinations, his attempts to obfuscate. He had appointed a schoolboard, made up of the three Amish men sitting in court that day. He was now requesting that the sale be voided because the township had not notified the school board.
The judge chided the lawyer. In previous cases, he had said 'x' and today he said 'y'. His story and his challenges changed not once, but over and over. The case was quickly dismissed.
Mose looked at me after the judge made her ruling. The three men followed their lawyer into the back room. I did not follow.
I feel bad for these people. I honestly do. The men were completely out of their league and did not appear to understand why the judge was refusing to void the sale. In effect, she was saying "It's too late." She commented that had the appeal to the sale been filed in a timely manner, they would have won their case, the seizure of the property had been illegally done, but that now, three months after the deed transfer it was too late.
If I am asked my opinion, I will give it to them as plainly as I can. They claim to be men of God, living their lives as God intended. The Order itself is not in agreement on how this sewage situation should be handled. Some believe that the monthly bill should simply be paid.
As unfair as it seems, I lean that way myself.
I look at it like this: I live in a democracy. I pay taxes for 'the good' of that democracy. Part of that money goes to fund military action in Afghanistan, to the tune of 100 billion dollars a year. That is obscene, in my opinion, since most of that money is handed over to a government that is not required to account for it. It simply disappears into the pockets of the leaders. We are propping up a government that shows little interest in weaning itself off the money of other governments or in assisting its people.
Now, understand, I feel very strongly about this, and I could really make a case for not paying my taxes because of it. And I could waste a lot of time arguing the case in court, trying to exhaust the funds of the other side. In the end, I would lose. My property would be seized.
If you believe as I do, you would think it pretty unfair. But I also believe that I live in a democracy, which means that I don't always get my own way. Regardless, I don't get to refuse to participate because I don't like it.
The Amish are a group of people who live by different standards. The advice that I would give them, if asked is simple. "You cannot make a case based on your religious beliefs by using legal deceit and trickery. The two things are incompatible. This lawyer is making you look very bad."
I don't know what they will do, but they have lost a school house.
They are also losing considerable dignity, but that's just my opinion.
We finally got our rain, today, and I walked home in it. pondering lawyers who believe themselves smarter than they actually are, about big township fish living grandly in their small ponds, and about the hills we choose to die on.