Minnesota’s Amish Revolt Against Frac Sand Mining


“History,” the old adage goes, “repeats itself.” And this is precisely the reason why we learn it.

Exhibit A: Wisconsin v. Yoder (1972), a landmark First Amendment Court battle royale. The case’s facts, as summarized by Oyez, are as follows:

Jonas Yoder and Wallace Miller, both members of the Old Order Amish religion, and Adin Yutzy, a member of the Conservative Amish Mennonite Church, were prosecuted under a Wisconsin law that required all children to attend public schools until age 16. The three parents refused to send their children to such schools after the eighth grade, arguing that high school attendance was contrary to their religious beliefs.

The Court was tasked to answer the following question: Did Wisconsin’s requirement that all parents send their children to school at least until age 16 violate the First Amendment by criminalizing the conduct of parents who refused to send their children to school for religious reasons?

Unanimously, the Court decided the Wisconsin education law on the books at that time, for the Amish specifically, was a form “compelled association.” Therefore, it was ruled an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment’s “freedom of association” clause.

Fast-forward 40 years, and the following questions arise: Is history repeating itself in Minnesota’s Amish communities where frac sand mining is occurring? Is the age-old cliché coming to fruition once more?

Winona Daily News: “Amish Speak Out Against Frac Sand Facility”

Shawn Francis Peters, author of the book The Yoder Case: Religious Freedom, Education, And Parental Rights, lays out the facts and circumstances behind Yoder eventually making its way to the High Court.

In his book, he explains the special concerns of the Amish community: “[N]early all the Amish who settled in the New World shared a well-defined set of core beliefs, with an unwavering commitment to separation from the world being among the most important” (14).

The key demand by Amish, Peters explains, was a demand to avoid all forms of “worldliness.” He wrote,

The…Amish were reluctant to provide their children with extensive formal schooling…[S]chooling that went much beyond the elementary level…was perceived as a grave threat to the faith…The Amish believed that if their children attended public schools for too long, the youngsters would be inculcated with worldly values (28-9).

As DeSmogBlog recently explaned in its short documentary film “Sand Land,” the race is on to mine for the prize of frac sand. The fine-grained sillica sand, predominantly located in western Wisconsin and in bordering Minnesota, is needed to extract shale gas, commonly referred to as “fracking,” in shale basins located in every crevice of the globe.

The Winona, Minnesota-area, it turns out, possesses a heavy concentration of Amish citizens. It is also now part of “Sand Land” and the frac sand industry’s “land grab.”

Does the industry’s ongoing “land grab” clash with the fundamental tenets of Winona’s Amish population? As it turns out, quite possibly.

In a story published July 5, the Winona Daily News explained the industry’s game plan in the area: “About 10 miles from the cluster of Amish farms, Faribault, Minn.-based Farm2Rail has proposed building a 300-acre rail yard that would serve as a washing and loading facility for frac sand, as well as for grain.”

Critics say the plan is an affront to the Amish way of life.

Lee Zook, an Amish expert and retired professor of sociology at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, told the Daily News, “Having a large industrial installment next to this kind of typical, idyllic, kind of farming community, is going to be extremely disruptive in terms of not only transportation, but also just noise levels.”

Zook also explained to the Daily News that it’s no small thing that the Amish community in Winona has decided to stand up and fight back.

“Many times, when they run into conflict with regulations and so forth, they end up resisting those on a very quiet basis rather than making any kind of protest,” he said. “So for them to go to meetings and voice concerns about this, is kind of an interesting way of, kind of a change.”

These observations shared by Zook echo those of Peters, who in his book wrote,

[N]early all the Amish who settled in the New World shared a well-defined set of core beliefs, with an unwavering commitment to separation from the world being among the most important….[I]f state authorities prosecuted them for holding such beliefs, the Amish would not resist” (Peters 14).

Yet, rare as it was, when a fundamental tenet of the Amish belief system was under attack, leaders of the Amish community in Wisconsin chose to stand up and fight back.

Their legal case ascended all the way to the Supreme Court — and they won.

“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

Could history be repeating itself in Winona? Is it possible that the frac sand “land grab” is unconstitutional under the First Amendment’s “Freedom of Religion” clause? In other words, is the burgeoning industry preventing the Amish community from fully practicing its religion?

The debate, of course, is in its infancy. Yet, that said, history offers many important lessons for those willing to read it.

As novelist William Faulkner once wrote, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

Steve Horn is a Research Fellow for DeSmogBlog, where this story originally appeared.

The CounterPunch Online Auction

Featuring paintings, photographs, curios, oddities and objets d’art, donated by Alexander Cockburn, Jeffrey St. Clair, Noam Chomsky, Ralph Nader, Tom Tomorrow, Margot Kidder, Tao Ruspoli, elin Slavic o’hara, Anthony Papa, Shephard Fairey, Rob Urie, Paul Craig Roberts and many others!!

Click here for a Sneak Preview


Steve Horn is a Madison, WI-based freelance investigative journalist and Research Fellow at DeSmogBlog, where this piece first appeared.

Weekend Edition
October 9-11, 2015
David Price – Roberto J. González
The Use and Abuse of Culture (and Children): The Human Terrain System’s Rationalization of Pedophilia in Afghanistan
Mike Whitney
Putin’s “Endgame” in Syria
Jason Hribal
The Tilikum Effect and the Downfall of SeaWorld
Paul Street
Hope in Abandonment: Cuba, Detroit, and Earth-Scientific Socialism
Gary Leupp
The Six Most Disastrous Interventions of the 21st Century
Andrew Levine
In Syria, Obama is Playing a Losing Game
Louis Proyect
The End of Academic Freedom in America: the Case of Steven Salaita
Rob Urie
Democrats, Neoliberalism and the TPP
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
The Bully Recalibrates: U.S. Signals Policy Shift in Syria
Brian Cloughley
Hospital Slaughter and the US/NATO Propaganda Machine
John Walsh
For Vietnam: Artemisinin From China, Agent Orange From America
John Wight
No Moral High Ground for the West on Syria
Robert Fantina
Canadian Universities vs. Israeli Apartheid
Conn Hallinan
Portugal: Europe’s Left Batting 1000
John Feffer
Mouths Wide Shut: Obama’s War on Whistleblowers
Paul Craig Roberts
The Impulsiveness of US Power
Ron Jacobs
The Murderer as American Hero
Alex Nunns
“A Movement Looking for a Home”: the Meaning of Jeremy Corbyn
Philippe Marlière
Class Struggle at Air France
Binoy Kampmark
Waiting in Vain for Moderation: Syria, Russia and Washington’s Problem
Paul Edwards
Empire of Disaster
Xanthe Hall
Nuclear Madness: NATO’s WMD ‘Sharing’ Must End
Margaret Knapke
These Salvadoran Women Went to Prison for Suffering Miscarriages
Uri Avnery
Abbas: the Leader Without Glory
Halima Hatimy
#BlackLivesMatter: Black Liberation or Black Liberal Distraction?
Michael Brenner
Kissinger Revisited
Cesar Chelala
The Perverse Rise of Killer Robots
Halyna Mokrushyna
On Ukraine’s ‘Incorrect’ Past
Jason Cone
Even Wars Have Rules: a Fact Sheet on the Bombing of Kunduz Hospital
Walter Brasch
Mass Murders are Good for Business
William Hadfield
Sophistry Rising: the Refugee Debate in Germany
Christopher Brauchli
Why the NRA Profits From Mass Shootings
Hadi Kobaysi
How The US Uses (Takfiri) Extremists
Pete Dolack
There is Still Time to Defeat the Trans-Pacific Partnership
Marc Norton
The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution
Andre Vltchek
Stop Millions of Western Immigrants!
David Rosen
If Donald Dump Was President
Dave Lindorff
America’s Latest War Crime
Ann Garrison
Sankarist Spirit Resurges in Burkina Faso
Franklin Lamb
Official Investigation Needed After Afghan Hospital Bombing
Linn Washington Jr.
Wrongs In Wine-Land
Ronald Bleier
Am I Drinking Enough Water? Sneezing’s A Clue
Charles R. Larson
Prelude to the Spanish Civil War: Eduard Mendoza’s “An Englishman in Madrid”
David Yearsley
Papal Pop and Circumstance
October 08, 2015
Michael Horton
Why is the US Aiding and Enabling Saudi Arabia’s Genocidal War in Yemen?