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St. Paul, MN (KROC-AM News) - The Minnesota Court of Appeals issued a precedent-setting ruling today in favor of a group of Amish families in Fillmore County who have been engaged in a protracted legal battle with the county and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

In the ruling made public today, the appeals court found the MPCA and Fillmore County violated the constitutional religious rights of the four Amish families who objected to state and county regulations requiring them to install septic systems on their properties to treat non-toilet "gray water." It's the water used for bathing, cooking, washing clothes, and other tasks not involving toilet waste.

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Previous rulings by Fillmore County Judges and the Court of Appeals favored the government and found the regulations requiring septic tanks to treat the "gray water" were a substantial burden on the Amish family's religious rights but also represented "the least restrictive means of accomplishing the government's compelling interest in protecting human health and environment."

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The appeals court ruling says the Minnesota Supreme Court declined to hear the case, which prompted the Amish families to seek relief in the federal courts, where the US Supreme Court vacated the judgments issued previously in the state courts. The justices also ordered the Minnesota courts to reconsider the case in light of a 2021 US Supreme Court decision that clarified the demands of the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act. It’s a 1993 law that was created by Congress to strengthen the protection of religious rights in government actions involving land use and other issues.

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Despite opinions written by two US Supreme Court justices that found the Minnesota courts "misinterpreted" or "misapprehended" the law's demands, the Fillmore County Judge who reheard the case still sided with the government in the dispute. Today’s State Court of Appeals ruling overturns that decision and provides the Amish families with an exemption to the septic system requirement.

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