In Yoder v. Sugar Grove Area Sewer Authority, (Commonwlth. Ct. PA, Jan. 5, 2018), a Pennsylvania state appellate court, in a 2-1 decision, upheld the denial of an injunction sought by an Old Order Amish couple who object to the requirement that they connect to the local sewer system using an electric pump.  The dispute has wound its way through the courts for over five years.  (See prior related posting.)  The majority said in part:Owners did not establish the injunction would not harm the public, or that the harm in denying the injunction outweighed the harm in granting it. We defer to the trial court’s findings as to weighing the harms and the adverse effect of an injunction on the public health. After several years of litigation on multiple fronts, we recognize a strong interest in accomplishing the mandatory connection without further delay. Because there are apparently reasonable grounds for the trial court’s denial of preliminary injunctive relief, we affirm.Judge McCullough dissented, relying on the state’s Religious Freedom Protection Act. She argued that the trial court wrongly placed the burden on the property owners, rather than the sewer authority, to show the least restrictive means of furthering the state’s interest.  She went on:… [T]his case [should be] remanded to the trial court with the instruction to place the burden on the Authority to demonstrate the least intrusive means of non-electric connection to its sewer system. It may be that there are none and, if that is the case, then the trial court should re-open the issue of compelling Owners, against their sincerely held religious beliefs, to connect to the Authority’s sewer system. The Act requires the interest of the agency/authority to be “compelling” before it imposes a substantial burden on religious freedom. I question whether mandatory electric connection is such a compelling interest so as to countenance this infringement upon Owners’ religious freedom.



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