Amish Couple Says They Will Not Update Outhouse

MARTINSBURG, Ohio (AP) - An Amish couple said they will not compromise their religious beliefs and update an outhouse on their land, despite a judge's deadline.

Dan and Lena Miller said they would rather go to jail than install a watertight, concrete tank under the new outhouse they built for their son, who lives with his wife on an adjacent farm. A Knox County judge ruled last week that they must make the $200 update by Sept. 16.

The outhouse is next to a stream, creating the health risk that human waste can leak into the area's water supply, Health Commissioner Dennis Murray said. The Millers have resisted complying with county law for nearly two years, he said.

The Millers use decomposed waste from the outhouse to fertilize wheat, barley, corn and oats on their farm in Clay Township, about 40 miles northeast of Columbus.

Health workers first tried to convince the Millers to make the changes on their own, Murray said.

"We really didn't want to go to court," he said. "They are peaceful people, and they want to be left alone, but they need to have something that protects our groundwater just like everyone else."

The Millers, who have not attended court hearings, said they are exempt for religious reasons from county building codes.

The couple belongs to the Swartzentrubers, a conservative group of Old Order Amish. The Christian denomination shuns modern conveniences such as electricity and indoor plumbing.

Many Amish also drink from contaminated, rusty drinking wells, said Jim Hoorman, a water quality agent for the Ohio State University Extension Service. More than half the wells he's tested in Hardin and Logan counties have unhealthy bacteria levels, contaminated by barnyard waste and outhouse seepage.

Bishop Dan Slabaugh, who leads the community of 150 in Clay Township, said almost everyone does things the same way as the Millers.

"If we go over our lifestyle and don't pay attention to it, things will go fast to an end," Slabaugh said. "We should keep with what we was taught."

An Ashland County Amish man spent several days in jail in the 1990s after citing religious reasons for refusing a Health Department request to bring his outhouse up to code.

County officials eventually persuaded the local bishop to approve an alternative septic system, similar to the concrete container the Millers must install.

Knox County is willing to give the Millers another chance, assistant prosecutor Ana Aebi said.

"We're going to make an extraordinary effort to make sure they understand what's needed," Aebi said. "But if we do not hear from them by Sept. 16, the judge will issue an order to arrest them."

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)