To avoid evicting Amish constituents, a new bill in the Wisconsin State Senate would exempt homes without electrical wiring from laws requiring smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.
Nathan Duerkop, chief of staff to bill author Sen. Terry Moulton, R-Chippewa Falls, said the bill is based on attempts to cooperate with Wisconsin’s Amish communities.
“As they’re building their homes, they’re running into situations where they’re being inspected for the presence of smoke detectors,” Duerkop said. “But because it goes against their religious beliefs, they don’t want to have them installed. So it’s an effort to try and work with them on that.”
The same reasoning applies to certain plumbing regulations that the bill also exempts these communities from, Duerkop added. He said the bill contains provisions that address homes that do not have flushing toilets, exempting them from related plumbing laws.
Duerkop said he was unsure as to how potential safety concerns would be handled.
Moulton, in the email he and Rep. Kathleen Bernier, R-Chippewa Falls, sent requesting co-sponsors for the bill, said some local Amish families currently face serious consequences from the lack of these devices.
“Today, several Amish families in our district face eviction from homes they own and live in, as well as punitive fines for not complying with portions of the UDC [Uniform Dwelling Code] that violate their faith,” the legislators said in the email.
Moulton added the buildings meeting the requirements outlined in the bill must still comply with other building code requirements, and should an Amish home be wired for electricity or have flushable toilets, it will still be required to have the detectors and proper plumbing.
Karen M. Johnson-Weiner, an anthropology professor at Elizabethtown College, said in an email to The Badger Herald that Amish religious texts require them to build their houses in a specific way.
“If, heaven forbid, a fire comes, sweeps through the house and something terrible happens … they’ll be with God,” Johnson-Weiner said. “Theirs is not an intellectual faith; it’s a lived faith.”
Johnson-Weiner and her colleagues from Elizabethtown College also help keep up the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies on campus.
The Young Center’s website provides further details on the Amish community’s views of technology.
“Most Amish groups forbid using electricity from public utility lines,” the website said. “Electricity from batteries is more local, controllable and independent from the outside world.”
The web page says the Amish do not necessarily disapprove of technology itself, but rather the way that the use of it can threaten their separation from the outside world and their community-based traditions.
The Amish seek to avoid unnecessary connections with those outside their community and to limit the ways in which their people could be exposed to “worldliness,” the website said.
“The Amish seek to master technology rather than become its slave,” the website said. “Like few other communities, they have shown the tenacity to tackle the powerful forces of technology in order to preserve their traditional way of life.”