Two Amish men have sued Auburn, Kentucky (population approx. 1,300) in a Kentucky state court over an ordinance requiring that horses wear equine diapers. The ordinance, passed in 2014, is intended to keep town streets clear of horse manure, and is the result of neighbor complaints. The ordinance requires “[a] properly fitted collection device shall be securely in place on all horses or other large animals while such animals are on the street within city limits. The sole exception of this requirement shall be for special events when cleanup crews are provided as part of the event.” See Auburn Code of Ordinances, § 90.088(B) (available here). Auburn officials maintain that the ordinance is needed to keep the streets clean and to reduce the risk of spreading disease. Reportedly, Auburn had more than 25 cases pending against Amish individuals for violating the ordinance as of October 2016.
The plaintiffs are members of the Swartzentruber Amish, a subgroup within Old Order Amish Society and one of the most conservative subgroups (read more about the Swartzentruber Amish here). Even before the ordinance was passed in 2014, Swartzentruber elders considered and rejected the equine diaper requirement.
Last year, one of the plaintiffs was jailed for 10 days and fined $193 after a jury convicted him of violating the ordinance. Now, the plaintiffs claim that the ordinance violates their religious beliefs, because they do not believe in such technology as equipping horses with diapers. The plaintiffs assert that there is an available alternative that will not violate their religion – carrying shovels to clean up horse waste on the spot (similar to the ordinance’s exception for special events). But Auburn’s lawyer has stated that this is not a viable option as it would be too dangerous for the Amish to stop in the middle of the road with oncoming traffic to shovel manure. The plaintiffs allege that the ordinance violates the state and federal constitutions, as well as the Kentucky Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
One Auburn resident succinctly summed up the dispute: “Yes, it’s a law, and we’re all supposed to follow the law. But I don’t understand why they can’t find a happy medium. All of this over horse poop?” The Wall Street Journal has more in “When Horse Diapers and Freedom of Religion Collide.”