10/04 Copyright 1993. The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. With Permission. AUGUSTA,
10/04 Copyright 1993. The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. With
AUGUSTA, Wis. (AP) -- The new schoolhouse is snug and bright. Fifteen desks
fill a single room warmed by a wood-burning stove. Lunch pails are neatly
lined up on shelves in the entryway. The Amish think it's quite modern enough.
But officials in Eau Claire County say that unless the little school adds
electricity, exit signs, smoke detectors and a firewall behind the stove, it
will be closed for violating state law.
This culture clash, which includes threats of lawsuits and arguments about
religious freedom, may result in changes to the 1991 law that requires all
rural schools to meet stringent health and safety standards. The dispute also
is galvanizing this town of 1,500 in west-central Wisconsin. Town leaders say
the Amish should be allowed to preserve their simple, unadorned way of life.
"I am certain the school is as safe as the one I and my father attended," said
Henry Grottke, a 63-year-old farmer who rents land to Amish. "Whatever
happened to government of the people, by the people, for the people?"
The 100 local Amish families have seven other one-room schools, but all were
built before the 1991 law took effect. Last Thursday, a state Senate comittee
came to Augusta to hold a public hearing. After taking testimony, the panel
voted in favor of a bill to exempt Amish schools from rigid building codes.
The bill next goes to the full Senate and could come to a vote late next month.
"If they are not a danger, not a threat, not hurting people, why legislate
down their throats?" said state Sen. David Zien, who as a first-grader
attended a one-room school.
The Amish wear plain, dark clothing and travel by horse-drawn vehicles. They
shun most modern conveniences and contend that connecting electricity to the
school would violate their religious beliefs.
The Amish have clashed before with state government over modernities, such as
systems to sterilize dairy equipment, permits for outdoor toilets and
reflective triangles they must hang on the back of their buggies to designate
Another sort of sign is at issue in the school dispute. The building has just
two doors -- one to enter and one that leads to the outhouses behind the
school. Neither has the state-required sign identifying it as an exit.
The requirement to run electricity to the school strikes the Amish as
similarly useless and intrusive.
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank