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. logikflux

    They were a common sight around where I lived. We had Amish everywhere. We just drive with them in mind, and avoid the horse turds. If you can't see a big freakin' horse drawn carriage hugging the side of the road you are driving on enough to avoid them, you probably shouldn't be driving. Where I live now, bike riders are more of an issue. I saw one get nail not to long ago on the highway out here. I can honestly say, I have never seen a buggy in an accident.

    September 15, 2011 at 9:40 am |
    • logikflux

      No lie, we had someone in the area that had a buggy with a boombox inside, and neon purple ground effects. I bet this dude got all the Amish chicks.

      September 15, 2011 at 9:44 am |
    • Jim

      Of course bikes are more of a problem. There are more people who ride bikes than there are people who are Amish!

      September 15, 2011 at 12:40 pm |
  2. Norman Smith

    *****This post was actually put in the wrong area originally, read it, cause it all boils down to responsibility. ****

    People, these people have the right to decide for themselves due to their beliefs. Laws, no laws or whatever, any responsible motor vehicle operator on the road should be paying attention to what is in front of them as well as around them. Therefore, if you are being responsible and you see strange reflections doesn't common sense dictate slow down or stop. Put down your cell phones, iPads, iPods, Game boys, & other toys. You're the one who wanted the license, now be responsible with it. Laws are created only as a direct result of the overwhelming majority of society not being responsible for their actions. Open thy eyes, mind, and soul and think and be responsible for yourself. These people are.

    September 15, 2011 at 9:38 am |
    • Norman Smith

      Remember I did say motor vehicle operator.... in other words you.

      September 15, 2011 at 9:42 am |
    • Mim

      @ Norman, you might be correct but the Amish Luther's German Bible needs an update to a 2.0 version because they can get killed during a pitch black night without the reflective triangles.

      September 15, 2011 at 9:46 am |
    • Norman Smith

      I had been a professional driver so to speak for many years operating a variety of equipment on different roads and weather conditions. I have traveled rather quickly thru many Amish areas in Pennsylvania and the north without incident. When I'm in those areas, I'm on alert for them and look for anything strange that may alert me as to their presence. The kicker is I'm legally blind in one eye, what's wrong with the rest of you.???????

      September 15, 2011 at 10:04 am |
  3. Jessica

    You would think that there could be a compromise that would satisfy both the law and this order's religious beliefs. Why does it have to be a triangle, and why does it have to be orange? Perhaps they could make something reflective out of a symbol and color they would be willing to put on their buggy.

    September 15, 2011 at 9:38 am |
  4. Sam

    Have any of the people commenting here ever had to share a road with Amish buggies? I am from Kentucky, but not from the area where the Amish of this order live. Driving through that area, however, I nearly rearended a slow moving buggy because they are nearly invisible in the twilight and nighttime hours. I can see why the reflectors are necessary. Everyone knows what an orange triangle means. Seeing and realizing the meaning of some strips of reflective tape or a couple of disembodied lanterns would seriously slow down the reaction time of a driver - particularly in the rolling farm land in western and west-central Kentucky, where there are numerous blind hill crests and sharp curves. Tractors are bad enough to deal with, but even a John Deere moves faster than a horse and buggy. Also, state law requires tail lights to be visible at least 500 feet away. I'm not sure a kerosene lantern with a red lense would be.

    September 15, 2011 at 9:37 am |
  5. awe

    religious idiots... get your f**ing sign before someone dies.

    September 15, 2011 at 9:37 am |
  6. Marcus

    Hey, you can easily drive around a bycycle when another car is coming. Have you tried to drive around these buggies, it's hard to do! and at night or in the evening or early morning, at twilight you just don't see them until you're right up on them. I almost hit one and it ruined my whole night! I could't sleep when i got home! Those little round reflectors did little to help. I came over a hill about 50mph and was right no them...a man and his wife and their grand son. I know them and have spoken with him in the past. Just imagine if I had killed them!!! I say they really should have tail lights not just reflectors!!!!

    September 15, 2011 at 9:36 am |
  7. Rudy4

    I understand their beliefs and all, but it is for safety. I live here near the Amish in Indiana. Many of their young are driving horse and buggy at very early ages, not like our children who must wait until 16. It is a shame that we make laws that don't accommodate their beliefs, however in today's world with all the vehicles out on the rode going much faster than a horse drawn buggy it is very dangerous. We are not back in the old days anymore. Unfortunately for them we must move forward, actually we have no choice but to move forward. I do respect them and their beliefs, a very few really god fearing Americans, but they must consider the safety of them and their children in this fast paced world.

    September 15, 2011 at 9:36 am |
  8. chilly g

    I live in maryland cloes to washington and i go to the amish market every saturday they are nice peoples
    just want to maintain there way of live but they must live by the same laws as every body else.

    September 15, 2011 at 9:35 am |
  9. OldGoat

    These are people who feel close to God and hence have an aversion to "loud" colors. When one of their black buggies with no slow vehicle marker at night is struck by a car or truck, the buggy's occupants will truly be close to God - and very dead.

    This is definitely a case where the greater good (highway safety) must take precedence over individual rights.

    September 15, 2011 at 9:34 am |
  10. big John

    Amish have been in many wrecks with their buggies. They need to understand the law is the law and it is for their own safety and the safety of their children. If I was Amish my buggy would be tricked out with a flashy paint job, fuzzy dice and spinners. lol

    September 15, 2011 at 9:34 am |
    • OldGoat

      Not to mention fluorescent lighting underneath and a ghetto-blaster playing religious ditties. 🙂

      September 15, 2011 at 9:36 am |
  11. Mike G

    I am assuming that most of you have never driven over the speed limit. I mean, that's just as, if not more, dangerous than not placing a reflective sign on a buggy. Yes, they should probably comply in some way, but all of the bigotry is unfounded. We laugh when we see a drunk guy talking stupid on COPS and yet that same drunk guy could have killed a family member. Does that outrage us? No, not until it inconveniences us. The underlying disdain is religion. You can't stand that they aren't complying because they don't believe what you believe therefore you feel justified to throw hate speech at these people... America is called the Land of the Free, but you bunch of morons are as intolerant as an oppressive as a third world regime. The difference is you hind behind a blog to get your message across. Why don't you take your hatred to the drunk drivers and the alcoholics that break the law... they've killed millions more people than the Amish... but you won't because alcohol is accepted and even drunk drivers get a second chance... not the Amish though... they don't deserve it!

    September 15, 2011 at 9:34 am |
    • BRC

      You're making som ebig assumptions. I know many people who hate, absolutely hate, anyone who would drive drunk. I personnaly don't think it's funny or acceptable, and don't believe someone who does it deserves a second chance. I think you'll also find that in most or all states, the punishment for DUI, and certainly if you caus ean accident while under the influence, is VASTLY more substantial than the punishment the Amish men suffered (which was their choice, they could have paid the fine).

      As for the intolerance, yes there is some, but most of the comments I have seen are out of concern. Those same people who dissaprove of drunk driving because it puts everyone at danger, are equally concerned about not marking a large traffic hazard for the same reason.

      September 15, 2011 at 9:43 am |
    • SciFiChickie

      Thank you. That pretty much summs up how I feel about this.

      September 15, 2011 at 9:44 am |
    • Lee

      I agree with you Mike G. People condemn what they don't understand. We could all learn a little from the Amish – maybe we should slow down, put away our phones and turn down our radios while on the road!

      September 15, 2011 at 9:47 am |
  12. John

    If in fact the law is being applied selectively, then this is just plain wrong. According to the article, these men were using reflective tape, red reflectors, and lanterns. That should be plenty. Are bicycles in Kentucky required to have red triangles on them? Seems to me the police and politicians should have better things to do besides harass some law-abiding Amish men, whose only crime is one borne out of their religious beliefs. This is a ridiculous waste of taxpayers' money to lock these gentlemen up. I would think the police should be more interested in spending their time investigating and arresting the people that run meth labs than arresting the Amish for something petty. I hope this case does go to the federal level.

    September 15, 2011 at 9:34 am |
    • Glenn

      Running over a bike is not likely to kill a vehicle driver but hitting a buggy can.

      September 15, 2011 at 9:38 am |
    • Evolutionism

      Laws cannot be fair and applied selectively. If one slow moving vehical, such as a tractor, is required to have an orange triangle, then all slow moving vehicals should be required to do so. Making exceptions breeds contempt for the law. Making exceptions could ALSO lead to people being killed. I live in OH and have never seen an Amish buggy that did not have an orange triangle. The compromise here seems to be that the Amish pryed to their God to forgive them, for complying with the law AND PROTECTING THEIR FAMILIES.

      September 15, 2011 at 9:57 am |
  13. Jenna

    Also I hate how people continue to say Amish do things the old way. Some might still do - however a lot of Amish these days do things quite modernly. My neighbors are Amish and two of them have cellphones!

    September 15, 2011 at 9:31 am |
    • anon

      the ones with black cars, cell phones, etc. etc. aren't "Amish" they're "German Baptist" which is essentially the same but much less strict.

      September 15, 2011 at 9:53 am |
    • Lee

      I get the impression that this particular order of Amish do not have cellphones!

      September 15, 2011 at 9:54 am |
  14. quitsa

    The idiots who write these laws need to take the bus. Why is it so important that everyone in this country look alike, think alike, practice the same religion and then when they don't we throw them in jail. Do the AMISH have any say. Where are the laws that send the horse and buggy into the ditch when the good ole car driver sees them as a target. Get real america. Dump the stupid laws and leave the amish alone and better yet – enforce the laws for the lunatic car drivers.

    September 15, 2011 at 9:30 am |
    • anon

      The Amish have no say because they don't contribute to society. They are self supporting and live off of the grid.

      September 15, 2011 at 9:52 am |
  15. Ozzy

    Just put the stupid little orange triangle reflector thing on the back of your horse and buggy, and stop trying to make national headlines. Please do the needful. lol

    September 15, 2011 at 9:29 am |
  16. RichM

    I guess if I saw a horse and buggy on the road, I would assume it was going slow.

    September 15, 2011 at 9:28 am |
    • William Demuth


      Not ot be a wise guy, but it is the one you DON'T see that we are worried about.

      Bad weather, road conditions, darkness, and natural forces make collisions a real threat, and we need to deal with them as such.

      September 15, 2011 at 9:32 am |
    • Jenna

      Since the Amish live in the countryside its not like there are street lights to guide them. A lot of them use the buggies well into the night at 10 and 11pm when going home. How can you see them when you are on a road with no lights and their buggies are all black?

      September 15, 2011 at 9:34 am |
    • Mike G


      What should we do about drunk drivers? we don't see them coming until they have T-boned our car. Should we continue to give them 3 strikes or just wait until they kill someone? There are more dangerous drivers out there than the Amish...

      September 15, 2011 at 9:38 am |
    • Sean

      You mean the black buggy... at night?

      September 15, 2011 at 12:42 pm |
  17. Phil in Oregon

    The 'religious' argument falls apart if you don't have some bible verses commanding you not to do the thing. All I see is them trying to force everyone else to accommodate their system when they don't really support the rest of society. Slow moving vehicles have to use the triangles. or not use the roads.

    September 15, 2011 at 9:27 am |
    • David in Corpus

      Thomas Jefferson once said, "democracy is 51 percent of the people forcing 49 percent of the people to do things there way."

      I hate seeing any 'normal' person being forced to do something just because an authority figure (cops, judges, other sacks of nazi chit) said so and insist by taking away ones money or freedom. It isn't like they were cutting off puppy dog heads for fun.

      I can always get more money, but taking away my freedom is the equivalent of murder. I was raised to respect law enforcement, but most of them are just bullies. They don't really listen to people, they just boss them around and then pepper spray them when they don't get their way.

      September 15, 2011 at 9:34 am |
  18. Jenna

    Why do so many Amish farm's paint their barns bright red if they are against "loud" colors?

    September 15, 2011 at 9:26 am |
    • David in Corpus

      Historically speaking, red paint was always the cheapest at the hardware store and was thus used for painting work related structures (ie: barns).

      September 15, 2011 at 9:35 am |
    • Mojave Bob

      Different order of Amish. Most of the more conservative orders paint their homes and barns white. Many will wear only drab colors. More "progressive" Amish may display more colors and utilize more technology. I don't agree with many of the decisions the Amish have made along these lines, and I think some of the reasoning is faulty, but that's me. They believe they are honoring God, and I respect their resolve, even as I disagree.

      Regarding the triangles, I think we have a letter-of-the-law / spirit-of-the-law conflict here. The law requires triangles, but not because there is anything inherently wonderful about triangles. The triangle exists to provide visibility. The orange is for daytime visibility and the white reflective is for nighttime. If they can accomplish the same thing without violating their consciences, I think the law should have some flexibility. I suspect that respecting the Triunity of God is the larger concern to them. Maybe they would accept a display of orange during the day if the shape of the reflector were changed to a square or a circle.

      September 15, 2011 at 9:40 am |
    • Sam

      Jenna, barns in Kentucky in general are more often black (from a wood preservative) or unpainted and weathered gray.

      September 15, 2011 at 9:43 am |
  19. Randy

    I think that slow moving bicycles on roads is a lot more dangerous than a slow moving buggy.

    September 15, 2011 at 9:25 am |
    • William Demuth

      So is watching a Schwinn die comporable to watch a horse die?

      September 15, 2011 at 9:27 am |
    • shoos

      Agreed William.

      September 15, 2011 at 9:35 am |
    • Matilda

      William, What difference does it make? When their horses become lame from pounding the asphalt streets, they slaughter them.

      September 15, 2011 at 9:37 am |
    • Glenn

      Not for the people hitting them.

      September 15, 2011 at 9:40 am |
    • Sam

      A bicycle takes up only a small amount of space on a road, and are easy to pass. Buggies are as wide a compact car and take up most of a lane. I have been stuck behind them for a half hour. When I'm driving through that area and get behind a buggy, I turn on my flashers to keep from being hit in the rear by someone else. Passing lanes are very rare on two-lane farm roads.

      September 15, 2011 at 9:46 am |
    • Glen C.

      Slow minded individuals are slower than slow moving buggies.

      September 15, 2011 at 9:49 am |
  20. TeachTolerance

    People need to understand that this order of the Amish is the oldest and most strict in their beliefs. Their refusal to use the signs on their buggies has nothing at all to do with the Bible and it's teachings, instead it has to do with their wish to remain as life was when their order was founded roughly 500 years ago in Germany.

    The Amish began as a branch off of the Anabaptist faith and wish to seperate themselves from society and simply live peacefully, providing for themselves. This is the reason the Old Order Amish do not wear gaudy colors or clothing or even gold/colorful buttons. So many laws get overlooked for the rest of society and yet certain ones are enforced on the Amish because they are misunderstood and different. Perhaps, people need to understand before they begin taking the Amish to task for their beliefs.

    September 15, 2011 at 9:23 am |
    • William Demuth


      A cult is a cult.

      In my book, they way they raise their children is abusive and immoral.

      Even bringing a horse onto a highway seems absurd to anyone above Virginia

      September 15, 2011 at 9:30 am |
    • shoos

      Sorry, but they live in the United States and we have traffic laws for the safety of all. I take them to task for their refusal to contemplate common sense. If they are driving at night without any reflective attachments, they put car drivers, their families, and their livestock (which have no religious beliefs) at risk. I'm tired of people crying "religious beliefs" for an excuse not to follow common sense rules.

      September 15, 2011 at 9:33 am |
    • TeachTolerance

      William, you obviously have either never met many Amish or are ignorant of them as a group. As someone who lives in an area full of the Swartzentruber Amish I can tell you that just as there are nuts in regular America there are a few not so nice people in the Amish community. But to call them a cult is to show ignorance and lack of understanding and a heart of hatred. These are people who are kind and caring. They truly are some of the most polite people you will meet. They are hardly a cult when they offer all teenagers a time of contemplation when they get to experience life in the modern world and then decide if they want to continue being Amish or not.
      PS: I'm in Pennsylvania, and believe me, there are plenty of non-Amish who ride horses down the rode to get from one part of a farm to another. Also, very slow moving tractors, PennDot equipment, or just heavy machinery.

      September 15, 2011 at 9:40 am |
    • TeachTolerance

      Shoos, You obviously didn't thoroughly read the article. They do use reflectors, they are simply against the use of the triangular shape because to the 3 sided objects are to closely related to the holy trinity. What's so wrong with a square... especially if it's larger?

      September 15, 2011 at 9:42 am |
    • William Demuth


      Then give me ANY group that would better bear the name?

      Tolerance is NOT permiting deviant behavior.

      Child abuse, animal abuse and tax evasion are clear indicators of their cult status.

      It is NOT 1736, and holding children hostage in the past is clearly abuse.

      September 15, 2011 at 9:53 am |
    • William Demuth


      All one need do is travel Route 70 in New Jersey to see the infection is spreading.

      And your reference to farm machinery and horses in the same sentence seems a tad out of date as well.

      Horses are not machines.

      September 15, 2011 at 9:55 am |
    • Sean

      Your religious beliefs do not give you to right to endanger others… period.

      September 15, 2011 at 12:46 pm |
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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.