September 14th, 2011
08:52 PM ET

Amish men jailed over refusal to use orange safety triangle on buggies

By Kim Hutcherson, CNN

(CNN) - A group of Kentucky Amish men would prefer to do jail time rather than violate their religious beliefs, which they say forbids the placement of bright orange safety triangles on the backs of their buggies.

The orange triangles are required on all slow-moving vehicles, according to Kentucky state law.

Nine men in the western part of the state have refused to use them. They belong to the Old Order Swartzentruber Amish.

According to court documents, this sect follows a strict code of conduct, called Ordnung, which "regulates everything from hairstyle and dress to education and transportation." They believe that displays of "loud" colors should be avoided, along with the use of "worldly symbols." Swartzentruber Amish believe such symbols indicate the user no longer trusts fully in God.

The Swartzentruber Amish use reflective tape, but refuse to use the orange triangle.

After the appeal of their 2008 conviction was denied, Menno Zook, Danny Byler, Mose Yoder, Levi Hotetler, David Zook and Eli Zook refused to pay the small fines associated with their conviction. All six are currently serving sentences ranging from three to 10 days in the Graves County Jail, according to the jail's website.

Two other men, Jacob Gingerich and Emanuel Yoder, have already served their sentences and been released, the website says.

The men are "very polite, respectful, everything you would expect," said Graves County Chief Deputy Tim Warren. He said the men dressed up in their "Sunday best" to report for their jail sentences. The men are not forced to wear the orange county jail uniforms, Warren said. They are allowed to wear uniforms that are dyed a dark gray, but they are not allowed to wear their own clothes.

A ninth man, Levi Zook, had his fine paid by John Via, a Graves County resident who has close ties among the Amish community.

Via said he paid the fine because Levi Zook has a son with cerebral palsy. "The Lord just put it on me," Via said. "It was bothering me too much. I know the problems in that area."

Via says there is another problem with the orange triangle for the Swartzentruber Amish. The triangle is a symbol of the Holy Trinity - God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost. Swartzentruber Amish believe in the unity of God, says Via, which motivates their refusal to use the symbol, in addition to the other reasons.

In their appeal, the men argued not only that Kentucky law violated their freedom of religious expression, but that the law has been selectively applied against the Swartzentruber Amish.

It is an assessment with which Via and his wife agree. Both questioned why the men were not allowed to wear their "plain" Amish clothes in jail when other arrested people were allowed to wear their own clothing. "People around here feel sorry for them," said Via's wife, Dolores.

Via points out that the Swartzentruber Amish use a high-quality reflective tape on their buggies, along with lanterns and red reflector lights. They are trying to comply with the law, Via said, without violating their religious beliefs.

But he says the men - some of whom are elders and deacons in their church - see this as a battle over religious expression. "They don't want the fines paid," Via said. "They want to serve their sentences."

And the story may not end when those sentences are served. Via says the Swartzentruber Amish could take their grievances over Kentucky's safety triangle laws to the federal level. "The Swartzentruber Amish are the most strict order," he said. "They will not do certain things. And they will not use that triangle."

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Amish • Crime • Kentucky

soundoff (1,221 Responses)
  1. John Via

    I can tell from the comments that have been posted that these people know nothing about the Amish. They are the best citizens you can fine. They will do anything that is against their religious order. Rules are made by the church and the members have no option as to obey them or not. They must respect and obey the rules of their church. There are many different orders of the Amish, and each order has it's own set of rules. These men that are jailed come from the most strict order, and their rules have been made probably several generations ago. Several other states have exempted this type group from the slow moving emblem and are not experiencing any problems. Kentucky has bordering states that have given this exemption, but Kentucky has not seen the way to give this exemption. Graves County is the only county in KY that is enforcing this emblem statue to the fullest. There are several counties in KY that have the same type order of Amish as Graves County .

    September 14, 2011 at 10:10 pm |

      To quote what you just said:

      "They will do anything that is against their religious order.."

      I find this odd.

      September 14, 2011 at 10:13 pm |
    • Kowtow to Fast Lane Jesus ! ! !

      The best citizens you can fine? Well that's why they were fined!

      The best citizens you could find would obey the laws of the land, not reject those laws for some other ideology. That's actually NOT citizenship.

      September 14, 2011 at 10:14 pm |
    • J.W

      brown note that was probably a typo.

      September 14, 2011 at 10:24 pm |
    • Free toothpicks at 80 miles an hour

      And all they need is a little fertilizer and diesel and we've got another 9/11.
      Or maybe they'll just go nuts one day and take out their neighbors with pitchforks.
      If they can break one law because of their religion, then they can break all of them.
      I can become Amish in about ten minutes and form my own Amish cult. Care to let me break any law I want?
      Then shut the hell up about letting anyone break a law for religious reasons. That is in violation of the First Amendment.

      September 14, 2011 at 10:41 pm |
    • Shock18

      Well, yeah, except the ones growing peyote and weed. And selling it to their own people.

      September 15, 2011 at 10:51 am |
    • boogietime

      [sarcastic]Lovely government intervention here. Glad we had those violent crims behind bars. I feel safer already.[/sarcastic]

      September 15, 2011 at 11:46 am |
    • Robert

      Living in a small community that has become almost overrun with Amish families, I can say this is not a new argument. In our state, the Amish DO NOT have to have headlights. They are required to have the same yellow triangle and backlights, and for the most part they comply.

      The thing here is: have you ever seen a horse hit by a truck going over 60 mph? I have, right in front of my job. Why'd the horse get hit? Because the truck was trying to pass the buggy that was half in and half out of the lane, and the driver coming at him was not paying attention. So, you're right that the yellow/orange triangle wouldn't have helped. However, the fact that the amish go about 15 mph, use our main highways, during rush hour, causing so many issues.

      I think the Amish should be subject to every law in the state in which they reside. Furthermore, if they are not willing to follow those laws, they should follow them, THEN protest them, which is how the rest of us do it.

      ALSO: If they are not currently paying taxes, of any sort, that needs to change. I have Amish come into our offices and bankroll hundred dollar projects out of pocket. A lot of them don't have to pay anything but sales tax... so I think that needs to be addressed as well.

      September 15, 2011 at 12:18 pm |
  2. pokerplayer

    While I agree that the law must be maintained, they do appear to be trying to come to an agreement that at least meets the laws Intent. Laws are a rule of thumb, but can be modified. Example, were can we say a morning prayer, hang banners with the word " God " on them, put up a darn Christmas tree for petes sake and in some cases hanging the flag is frowned upon.

    Maybe its just me being in my 50's, but what happened to the good ole days when being a natural citizen counted for something.


    September 14, 2011 at 10:10 pm |
    • You forgot to ante up

      Everybody is descended from immigrants, even the Indians, Eskimos, and Aborigines. The human species did not evolve on these American continents. We're all newcomers here. This is new land. The New World. We'd like to do things a little better than those non-existent "good ole days" you don't have a clue about while we're here.
      At least some of us would.

      September 14, 2011 at 10:45 pm |
  3. Little Tiny Mustache

    I don't blame them. It's against their stupid religion.

    September 14, 2011 at 10:08 pm |
    • WhoKnewIt

      Why would you end your comment with "their stupid religion"? This country was based on religious freedoms. I didn't see anyone saying that your comment was "stupid"........let me be the first.......

      September 14, 2011 at 10:21 pm |

      Let you be the only.

      September 14, 2011 at 11:28 pm |
  4. Justlew

    Hey sometimes you just have to stand up for what you believe..what a simply life!! Try it

    September 14, 2011 at 10:07 pm |
    • Ben W

      you first

      September 14, 2011 at 10:47 pm |
  5. Cleigh

    I wish they'd leave the Amish alone. If they are using the reflective tape, that ought to be enough.

    September 14, 2011 at 10:07 pm |
    • Robrob

      So if your kid was killed some foggy night, driving into the back of an poorly marked buggy – you'd be fine with that?

      September 14, 2011 at 10:07 pm |

      I don't have kids. That question won't work on me.

      September 14, 2011 at 10:09 pm |
    • Yup yup yup

      And the world is all the better for that, brown stain. We appreciate your choice to end your genetic line. Then again, it is quite probable that your personality was the perfect birth control device.

      September 14, 2011 at 10:17 pm |
    • Bob, the Safety Beaver

      If someone runs into them going fifty while talking on a cell phone, that won't be "leaving them alone" will it?

      Extra reflectors or bright blinking lights or both are required for machines that go really slow and cannot maneuver quickly.
      The law protects both the Amish and whoever needs an extra second or two to see it and realize it's a buggy that is going dam slow and to slow down in a hurry. Every second helps save lives when we're talking about collision prevention.

      September 14, 2011 at 10:23 pm |
    • Harvey The Rabbit

      Bob has a good point: one of the most dangerous situations on the roadways is when one vehicle is going much faster or slower than the flow of traffic. That stuff is to enhance their safety.

      They could just pray that God would protect them, but that did not work for those poor amish girls who were gunned down years ago. I wonder why God did not answer their prayers?

      September 14, 2011 at 10:36 pm |

      Thank you yup, for that award-winning Pulitzer Prize-worthy input. It's a shame that no one will ever care about you or appreciate your words, well, until maybe after you've taken a dirt nap. And then it's too late.

      I'm thankful I'm not you.

      September 14, 2011 at 11:27 pm |
  6. You shouldn't be driving a car

    if you can't avoid hitting an Amish buggy. They go 20 miles an hour tops, have reflectors, reflective tape. For christsakes let them get away without a stupid triangle.

    September 14, 2011 at 10:04 pm |
    • Robrob

      Yes because of course no one *ever* hits trees, telephone poles, parked cars, pedestrians, etc... all going well under 20 mph. There's a reason for the law and why it applies to every one equally. Since they don't pay taxes, their use of the public roads is by permission only .

      September 14, 2011 at 10:07 pm |

      Rob, one day, you will hopefully meet a tree.

      Face to face.

      At 150 MPH.

      Kiss a windshield.

      jesus loves you


      September 14, 2011 at 10:18 pm |
  7. Yeah

    The Amish are very hard working people and have my respect. There should be an alternative way for them to be lawful and not go against their religion. If everyone in this country was as hard working and respectful this would be a much better place.

    September 14, 2011 at 10:03 pm |
    • Kowtow to Fast Lane Jesus ! ! !

      I'd like some alternative laws too. There are a lot I don't like. I am going to start a religion called Fast Lane Jesus that finds anything under 90 on the freeway to be a mortal sin. And we worship Fast Lane Jesus with public drunkenness and parking lot demolition derbies, so we should have alternative laws for that too.

      Yeah, that's the answer.

      September 14, 2011 at 10:09 pm |

      They wouldn't have to work so hard if they'd stop living in the dark ages. It's amazing what one can purchase at a grocery store.

      September 14, 2011 at 10:10 pm |
    • J.W

      Their food is probably healthier and less expensive than what is at the store.

      September 14, 2011 at 10:21 pm |
    • Bob, the Safety Beaver

      They probably use too much soap so that it dries out their skin.
      They should try Beaver™ brand skin moisturizer!
      It's the safety moisturizer that keeps your skin looking young!

      September 14, 2011 at 10:34 pm |
    • xapns

      to BROWNNOTE, and you and I of course have the easy life, loan on a car, mortgage, sitting in an office then going home watching television while eating chips and getting fatter. Have to take the kids to soccer practice, baseball practice, singing lessons blah blah. Takes money so have to get education so you can improve yourself by getting more pay but of course getting more you get more responsibility with more hours. Of course you need cell phone for every family member (200/mo) then you gotta have the latest and greatest gadgets.

      And now we judge how these people live. HAH

      September 15, 2011 at 1:24 pm |
  8. Joshua

    More example of government gone totally insane.

    Leave these people alone, they're doing no harm to anyone.

    September 14, 2011 at 10:02 pm |
    • Robrob

      So if your kid was killed some night, driving into the back of an unmarked buggy – you'd be fine with that?

      September 14, 2011 at 10:05 pm |

      I don't have kids. That question won't work on me.

      By the way, stop asking people this.

      September 14, 2011 at 10:11 pm |
    • boogietime

      If your kid is tearing down the highway so fast he can't avoid a slow moving buggy, he probably deserved it.

      September 15, 2011 at 11:50 am |
    • Mark G.

      That is not true. These buggies, usually black in color, are hard to see and motorists come up on them very quickly. These triangles give motorists warning that there is a slow moving vehicle ahead, giving ample time to slow down or be aware. This is for the safety of the motoring public too. If the Amish want to use taxpayer funded public roads, they must comply or build their own roads where they can do as they please.

      September 15, 2011 at 1:37 pm |
    • boogietime

      You might need an orange triangle if you are too busy texting to bother driving, but for those of us who pay attention, reflective tape, reflector lights and lanterns is plenty.

      September 15, 2011 at 2:15 pm |
  9. Robrob

    While we can all support their right to religious freedom, they have to follow the rules of the road like everyone else. Since they probably *don't* pay taxes anyway, their use of the public roads is a privilege not a right.

    September 14, 2011 at 10:02 pm |

      You don't know the law either.

      Just because you pay taxes doesn't mean your use of the road is a right either. If it was, you wouldn't have to pay for car registration, or have to pay money to obtain a license.

      You sicken me with your preaching, yet you don't know the law.

      September 14, 2011 at 10:14 pm |
    • Mags

      They do pay taxes, just like everyone else. The only taxes the Amish aren't required to pay are social security taxes, and this is because they don't take part in the social security system.

      September 15, 2011 at 11:00 am |
    • boogietime

      Is that true about the SS thing? I am joining the Amish.

      September 15, 2011 at 11:50 am |
  10. Jason

    Have them put large round reflective tape spots on their buggies. White, reflective, round tape. Round would symbolize the unity of God and white is pretty plain. Not as plain as grey, but you gotta live a litte, right?

    September 14, 2011 at 10:00 pm |
  11. Capercorn

    Dumb Moments from the US Supreme Court #1: Wisconsin v Yoder.

    September 14, 2011 at 9:59 pm |
  12. aquatroni

    I mean really. . . sending Amish people to jail because they won't put a reflector on their buggy? How idiotic and childish. All this does is show the rest of the country how idiotic the law is. These men wouldn't hurt a fly if it landed in their oatmeal, yet they have to go to jail? The police and prosecutor in that town should be ahsmed of themselves. I hope you rejects can sleep at night, knowing you locked up what are probably the most gentle people on the planet, even if they are a little, um, nutty.

    September 14, 2011 at 9:59 pm |
    • Capercorn

      The law is very clear: You want to operate your horse-drawn buggy on Public Roadways? You comply with the Laws of the road.

      Freedom of Religion does not give you the right to overrule traffic law.

      September 14, 2011 at 10:01 pm |
    • Robrob

      And the next time some school bus rams into the back of an unmarked buggy, what will you tell the parents? "Oh, it was a silly law..."

      September 14, 2011 at 10:04 pm |

      Rob, as demonstrated from one of your previous comments, you don't even know the law.

      September 14, 2011 at 10:15 pm |
    • SueS

      It is a matter of safety. The buggies are black and the horses tend to be dark. The Amish live in areas without street lights. After dark, the Amish rigs simply can't be seen by motorists coming up from behind. I've been in just such a situation before. The ONLY thing I could see was the orange warning triangle on the back of the buggy. It allowed me to slow down and pass the buggy safely.

      The aftermath of a buggy/car collision results in dead buggy occupants and dead or badly injured car occupants. If the men won't comply, they can't be allowed to operate their vehicles. Jail is the only way to ensure that they don't. Their whole objection is that the triangle is brightly colored. They believe in living simply.. that includes no bright colors. I'm sorry, but the right to swing your religious arm ends at the other person's nose. If the Amish do not want to have the orange safety triangles, then they need to stop using the public roads. They can cut their own buggy paths and stick to them, letting the cars and trucks travel the public roads.

      September 14, 2011 at 10:16 pm |
    • WhoKnewIt

      Yes, by all means jail them! We let drug pushers out of jail, rapist, murders, pedophiles, etc....let's be sure we jail the real criminals...the Amish ....freaking justice system...

      September 14, 2011 at 10:27 pm |
  13. when

    Reflective tape, Lanterns, Red reflecters....???.....What's the Problem? The triangle sign is an offense to their beliefs. So let them keep their reflecters and lanterns and leave them alone. They're good, honest, hard working, non-v iolent people. We could use a few tons of people with good character for a change.

    September 14, 2011 at 9:58 pm |
    • SueS

      It is not the triangle shape that's the problem. it's the color. The Amish will not put reflectors or lanterns on their rigs unless required to by law. If these men refuse to use the orange triangle, they are not going to be using any kind of reflector or light either.

      September 14, 2011 at 10:20 pm |
    • Julie Byler

      if the school bus driver is that blind then he/she shouldnt be on the road in the first place!!!! school bus drivers dont drive in the dark that much anyway.

      September 14, 2011 at 10:50 pm |
    • kristen

      SueS – did you not read the article? It said they are ALREADY using the red reflector tape and lanterns in place of the orange triangle.

      September 15, 2011 at 10:35 am |
  14. mythoughtis

    Fine, no triangle, no buggy on the roads. Problem solved.

    September 14, 2011 at 9:56 pm |
  15. J.W

    Oh people are just looking for a reason to hate the Amish. This is about the extent of the corruption in the Amish church.

    September 14, 2011 at 9:50 pm |
    • Robrob

      Uh, no.

      September 14, 2011 at 10:00 pm |
    • J.W

      No what?

      September 14, 2011 at 10:18 pm |
  16. *frank*

    Can an Old Order Swartzentruber beat an Ultra Orthodox Jew in a UFC fight?

    September 14, 2011 at 9:14 pm |
    • Eric

      Through money in the middle and see.

      September 14, 2011 at 10:03 pm |
    • B'more guy

      I doubt it. The Amish are strict pacificists. The ultra-orthodox? Not so much....

      September 14, 2011 at 10:06 pm |
  17. Hezakiah

    Bunches of kooks! Get 'em while they're hot! Bunches of kooks!

    September 14, 2011 at 9:07 pm |
  18. Albert

    Religious freedom does not mean you can break the law for religious reasons.

    September 14, 2011 at 9:06 pm |
  19. Anon

    They're delusional and crazy, end of story.

    September 14, 2011 at 9:00 pm |
    • herbert juarez

      So are you ,but who's counting.

      September 14, 2011 at 9:02 pm |
    • Sid

      Uh oh, spineless herbie's getting nasty again.

      September 14, 2011 at 9:04 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      As if he is ever anything else.

      September 14, 2011 at 9:34 pm |
  20. herbert juarez

    ...clip- clop,clip-clop,clip- clop, BANG BANG Clip- clop ,clip – clop...
    You have just been witnesses to an Amish drive by shooting.

    September 14, 2011 at 8:58 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.