US: False claims of compulsory registration exposed as conscientious objector sues
Mennonite's lawsuit prompts Pa. ag officials to admit error
6/22/2007, 9:08 p.m. ET
By PETER JACKSON
The Associated Press
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) -
The state Agriculture Department acknowledged Friday
that it erroneously advised Pennsylvania poultry farmers
they were required to enroll in a voluntary federal
farm-registration program in order to participate in the state's
avian-influenza monitoring program this year.
Spokesman Christopher Ryder said officials realized the error only
after the department was sued by a conservative Mennonite farmer
who claimed he would suffer "eternal damnation" if he complied
with the rule and got a federal registration number
to continue to sell his ducks.
"Apparently, they changed their mind at the last moment,"
said James Landis, the Lebanon County farmer who filed the lawsuit.
Landis said he and other members of the Eastern Pennsylvania
Mennonite Church believe the Bible's book of Revelation
warns that numbering systems that require participation as a
requirement for doing business are the work of the Antichrist.
The deadline for enrolling in this year's monitoring program
is June 30. Ryder said department officials expect to reach
an accommodation with Landis and will contact other farmers
to ensure that they know that participation in the federal program
is not mandatory. Ryder said he did not know
how many farmers received the incorrect notices.
"We are in the process of working it out," he said Friday night.
It was not immediately clear if Landis planned to drop
his lawsuit now that the state has acknowledged the error.
In the suit filed Thursday in Commonwealth Court,
Landis contends that the state rule unconstitutionally violates
his religious beliefs and that the state has no authority
to require participation in the voluntary federal program.
The federal program is designed to help officials respond
quickly to outbreaks of disease and other health threats.
Landis raises thousands of Muscovy ducks, a variety that his lawyer
says has leaner meat than other ducks. He gets ducklings
from a hatchery and keeps them on his Lebanon County farm
for about three months, then ships them for sale
at live-bird markets in New York City.
New York requires farmers to participate in a monitoring program
or pay for private testing of their flocks before they can
be sold in the state, Ryder said. Landis chose to satisfy
that requirement by participating in Pennsylvania's voluntary
monitoring program for 20 years, according to the lawsuit.
Landis' attorney, Leonard G. Brown III, is affiliated with the Alliance
Defense Fund, a Christian legal group based in Scottsdale, Ariz.
About two-thirds of Pennsylvania's more than 42,000 income
-producing livestock farms are currently registered,
according to USDA estimates. Nationally, fewer than one-third
of the 1.4 million farms are registered.
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