NAIS: Stand-off on Premises ID in Wisconsin
The State of Wisconsin, through Clark County District Attorney Darwin L. Zwieg, has brought a complaint for “civil forfeiture” against Amish livestock farmer Emanuel Miller, Jr. of Loyal for Miller’s failure to comply with state livestock premises registration laws. The complaint was filed on October 3, 2008 in the Clark County Circuit Court (click here to view complaint minus exhibits). The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) had been unsuccessfully attempting to register the premises of Miller and as many as forty-three other Amish farmers in Clark County since the spring of 2007. Under Wisconsin law no one may keep livestock at a location unless a premises registration application has been filed with the state.
The events giving rise to the complaint stem from DATCP’s Division of Animal Health (DAH) being notified of two samples from slaughtered swine testing positive for psuedorabies virus (PRV) in March 2007. The swine were traced to a Clark County farm; and in the following month, swine from a second farm in the county also tested positive. In response to the positive tests, DAH sent survey teams to “knock on all doors” within five miles of each of the two farms to search for swine producers. Of the 68 swine owners identified by DAH within the two areas of the county (not including the two farms–see map from Exhibit B), 54 had not registered their premises. DAH sent premises applications by regular mail to the 54 swine owners on July 27, 2007 .
Of the fifty-four, 44 swine owners, all believed by DAH to be Amish, refused to fill out their applications. According to Dr. Paul McGraw, Assistant State Veterinarian and Director of DAH’s Animal Disease Control, most of the swine owners
“stated that it was their community’s decision not to register for religious reasons because the Bible prohibits them from taking on the ‘mark of the beast’ for their animals. It was generally believed that premises registration was the first step of a 3-part government (USDA) program to require animal identification, and that identifying animals with numbers would be against their beliefs.”
When interviewed by a DAH compliance officer, Miller himself stated, “It’s a community deal not to participate” based on religious reasons.
Zwieg was initially reluctant to bring charges because of the strong protection afforded by the state constitution to those exercising their religious beliefs. The Wisconsin Supreme Court has held that if anyone challenging a law on religious grounds can show that their religious beliefs are sincere and are burdened by the law in question, the state must prove that the law is based on a compelling interest which cannot be addressed by a less restrictive alternative. Zwieg had believed that the Amish would be able to show that there was a less restrictive alternative to the state’s intended purpose of being able to respond rapidly to a disease outbreak in locating livestock farms quickly. He had asked DATCP why fire numbers (numbers assigned to help firefighters or emergency personnel locate a property) could not be used as premises codes; the Amish do not oppose having their premises identified by fire numbers. DATCP, through correspondence from McGraw, was eventually able to convince him that there was no workable substitute for premises identification.
Shortly before Zwieg filed charges, he had met with Miller’s father, Emanuel Sr., who conveyed to him the Amish position on the premises registration law. Emanuel Miller Sr. told Zweig that new Amish farmers who wished to obtain a milk producer license were being denied for not complying with the premises registration law. Miller Sr. indicated that, while the Amish do not want to be involved in court proceedings that perhaps a court case was necessary to settle the issue on whether the Amish would be exempt from compliance. Miller Sr. subsequently sent a letter to Zwieg relating that there had been a conference of the Amish community that had ended with the consensus that it would be left to the Clark County District Attorney’s office to determine who would be the defendant in the test case.
Under state law, DATCP does have the power to issue exemptions from the premises registration requirement, a power it has not exercised to this point. If found guilty, Emanuel Miller Jr. can be fined in any amount from $200 up to $5000. As of this time, Miller Jr. had not retained an attorney to represent him in the case.