RUSSELLVILLE – A trial date has been set for 13 members of Auburn’s Amish community who have been cited for violating a local ordinance that requires them to clean up after their horses.
Authorities have accused the Amish defendants of running afoul of Auburn’s ordinance setting forth the need for large animals traveling within the city limits to be fitted with devices to catch their droppings.
The ordinance cites a need to promote public safety.
On Wednesday, the defendants appeared in Logan District Court, where District Judge Kenneth Williams scheduled trials to begin Aug. 2.
The Amish who live in Auburn are members of a conservative sect known as the Swartzentruber Amish, which rejects motor vehicles and most other modern technology and travels on horse-drawn buggies.
The Swartzentruber community decided that using the bags would violate the community’s religious standards, which has left its members at odds with local law.
Currently, there are 37 pending cases against 13 people involving citations for violating the ordinance, according to Travis Lock, the defense attorney representing the Amish.
“I’m going to be asking for 37 separate trials,” Lock said after the hearing.
Logan County Attorney Joe Ross said during Wednesday’s hearing that both sides have been unable to reach a resolution, meaning trials are likely.
Ross said he anticipates filing a motion that would allow for separate cases against the same defendant to be tried at once, meaning one trial for each of the 13 defendants.
“I’m not opposed to (an agreement before trial),” Ross said after court. “I’ve discussed possibilities, but there’s not a whole lot of direction for me to go in if they’re not going to comply with the ordinance and the ordinance is going to remain in effect.”
Auburn’s ordinance faced a challenge in federal court, when Amish community members Dan Mast and Emanuel Miller sued Auburn Police Department Chief Larry Jones and Auburn Mayor Mike Hughes on the grounds that the ordinance targets the Amish for their religious beliefs.
City officials have maintained that the ordinance is in place to ensure public safety and applies to everybody.
Mast and Miller agreed to have the lawsuit dismissed earlier this year in U.S. District Court.
The penalty for violating the ordinance is a fine and court costs, but Amish community members convicted of violating the ordinance have refused in the past to pay any fines, resulting in jail time.
Amos Mast was one of those held in contempt of court and ordered to jail for refusing to pay the fine on an earlier citation, and he has one case pending against him in district court.
“I’m a farmer, I don’t travel much because I just stay on the farm,” Mast said. “There’s times that I need to be out (on the road), so we just go and face what happens.”
Williams set a pretrial conference for July 19, informing the Amish defendants that they are not required to be in court on that date.