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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. norker

    Man, if nobody's gettin' hurt, just let them do their thing.

    September 15, 2011 at 9:58 am |
  2. Hypatia

    Hey, Wllliam,
    I rarely read posts, but did so this morning, and guess what? You are all over them, son–
    radiating adolescent hubris. You can be quick-witted and it would seem this would pass for intelligence.
    Unfortunately, your disdain for others not like-minded, and the meat of your silly comments prove you
    to have but a cursory understanding of most serious topics.
    Turn off Star Wars, forget the Ents, put on some clothes, and get out of your Ma's basement and into the sunshine.
    It'll do wonders for your Nihilism.

    September 15, 2011 at 9:58 am |
    • William Demuth

      I am probably old enough to be your father.

      Based on MY youth it is a good chance I am.

      I shall gladly match my understanding to yours in almost any context you desire.

      September 15, 2011 at 10:01 am |
    • Luis Wu

      Unlike you, William seems to write intelligent posts. I enjoy reading them.

      September 15, 2011 at 10:20 am |
    • William Demuth

      Luis Wu

      Thank you. I appreciate the kind words!

      Because I challenge peoples beliefs, I am often condemend!

      September 15, 2011 at 10:32 am |
  3. bobalu

    The triangle represents the trinity? I think they need to adapt to modern interpretations of symbols. The triangle does not represent the trinity anymore so they shouldn't have a problem. It represents the Lesbian, Gay and Transgender community.

    September 15, 2011 at 9:58 am |
  4. Ego Sum Lamia

    THESE HARDENED CRIMINALS MUST BE KEPT OFF THE STREETS!!!! First no orange triangles, then what. Panic, Mayhem, Chaos.
    ~giggle~ Kentucky must be pretty well crime free to arrest a peace loving group, who rely on NO government benefits and take care of themselves and each other. @hippypoet, are you really that stupid. Urban sprawl has branched out into their area, tourists and other idiots want to drive around and stare at the Amish. As for the orange triangles, how many sill bike riders have them on their bikes, they are definitely slow moving vehicles.

    September 15, 2011 at 9:57 am |
  5. John Doe from Michigan

    Their son has cerebral palsy because their gene pool is to shallow. They need to stop having offspring with each other for inbreeding makes them weaker in their gene pool. The kid is probably locked up in a basement somewhere because they don't want him to give them a bad "image". If they think the Bible will save them from an 18 wheeler then go ahead without the triangles.

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

      Ignorant

      September 15, 2011 at 10:10 am |
  6. Let It Be

    I am a resident of a rural Southern Ky community. We have many Amish in our community. Their buggies are well-marked with bright reflective tape, lanterns. I respect their beliefs and their wishes to remain separate from society. Unfortunately, collisions occasionally happen, due mostly to their vehicles being slow-moving not because they aren't well-marked for visibility. Quit blaming the Amish and place the blame where it belongs – on the car/truck drivers who are texting, talking, eating, speeding, distracted. Slow down & pay attention, people!!!

    September 15, 2011 at 9:55 am |
    • Everyone Has their Own Belief

      I also agree with "Let It Be". If you are of another belief, then you and your family would follow the religious beliefs and rules. Just leave them alone.

      September 15, 2011 at 10:05 am |
    • Terri

      Well put!!

      September 15, 2011 at 10:06 am |
  7. Undertaker

    I can't believe what I'm reading! There are criminals out there who should be in there place in that jail cell, and these stupid officers from Graves County and arguing over a triangle?!? Go sit down in a coffee shop and eat your donuts you bunch of dumb cowards.

    September 15, 2011 at 9:54 am |
    • GT66

      +1.

      September 15, 2011 at 10:02 am |
  8. Name*Chedar

    Change the triangle to circle for goodness sake. Then it will look like the Target Store heh heh.

    September 15, 2011 at 9:53 am |
  9. duh

    For Gods Sake!, God is such a pain in the azz sometimes!

    September 15, 2011 at 9:52 am |
  10. Badonkadonk!!

    amish chics are smoking hot cause they never shave their legs....along with other parts of their body!

    September 15, 2011 at 9:51 am |
    • coolbreeze

      Now that is just plain.................N>A>S>T>Y

      September 15, 2011 at 10:04 am |
  11. Gina B

    Their refusal to comply affects my safety. When I lived near an Amish community, there were numerous times I had to travel the one and only road between two towns to get home. More than once we had near collisions from coming around a curve and not seeing a buggy because they had no reflectors. One time, they were pulling some time of machinery with big metal prongs and I had to brake VERY hard, almost slammed into the back of them, had to go into the next lane. Thankfully no semis or trucks or anything were oncoming. This endangered my life and more importantly, the lives of my children and any kids that may be in those buggies.
    I'm all for freedom of religion, but that freedom stops when it becomes capable of causing bodily harm or death to MY family and they shouldn't be allowed to endanger their children's lives as well, no matter what their beliefs.
    We had vehicles, semis, and horses and buggies all traveling the same major road. It is dangerous enough in broad daylight. At dusk and night? No way should that be allowed. These are public roads. If you can't follow the rules of the road, you lose the right to drive on them. Religion shouldn't play a role in having to follow safety rules on public roads because they're for ALL of us and for good cause.

    September 15, 2011 at 9:50 am |
    • MarcyD

      Very well said Gina! I sympathize with them, however if they don't want to use the proper safety signs then they should refrain from using the roads/highways at night. Their religious beliefs should not endanger others.

      September 15, 2011 at 10:00 am |
    • MarylandBill

      Maybe you missed the point of the article. These particular Amish are using reflectors, reflector tape, and even lanterns to make themselves visible. They simply object to the use of the orange triangle.

      I would also point out that if you almost hit the buggies, while it is true that they should have been more visible, it is probably also true that you were probably also traveling too fast for the conditions. Deer and other animals for example don't have reflectors on them. Nor would a stalled car necessarily be very visible either (unless the reflectors were oriented correctly.

      September 15, 2011 at 10:02 am |
    • Ted

      Gina, you're probably just a bad driver.

      It's not their problem. A buggy travels at what? 10 mph? Use your brakes before you hit the curve, not after you see someone already there.

      September 15, 2011 at 10:03 am |
    • zrxgrim

      Slow down, share the road especially on blind curves... Also learn from your previous experiences, if these near misses keep happening it's on YOU.

      September 15, 2011 at 10:05 am |
    • GT66

      #1 Many of those roads were Amish buggy trails that were there BEFORE you and your car, ignoramus.
      #2 They attempted to comply by putting almost EVERYTHING ELSE on the back of the buggy.
      #3 With gas at 3.50/gallon maybe the Amish are smarter than you and I.
      #4 This LAW isn't about safety, it is about government pushing people around because it can. You tell me what data says about the degree of difference in safety is between a reflective stripe and a triangle.

      September 15, 2011 at 10:08 am |
    • Let It Be

      I guess it would not be your fault if you throw caution to the wind and barrel around a blind curve knowing full-well that SOMETHING or SOMEONE could be in your path. You DO have a certain amount of responsibility for your OWN safety when operating a motor vehicle in an area where slow-moving vehicles frequent.

      September 15, 2011 at 10:15 am |
    • carolyn

      Some Amish customs like many other "religious customs and tradition are not based on any Biblical premise that command's or demand that certain color's be avoided. No where in the Bible does it say you can wear or not wear certain colors.
      Of course ,freedom of religious expression should be respected. But whether you are a Bible believer or not ; much of it is open to interpretation; which they are free to do; but you can't be allowed to ignore laws or rules designed to protect others in the community. This is atotally unrelated issue; but if they are so right about their "religion" I wonder how they Biblically justify all that inbreeding that has caused generational birth defects. So much for "rightiouness"

      September 15, 2011 at 10:17 am |
    • Gina B

      Nope, I'm not a bad driver at all. Nearing my forties, no accidents and got one ticket my whole life-about two weeks after receiving my license. These aren't deer, they are people and I don't speed. I go the posted limit. A horse-drawn buggy does not and cannot. Couple that with the failure to use easy to see and recognize signs on their buggies and you get a recipe for disaster. If a deer jumps out of nowhere it may be very difficult to avoid. That's life. If a car is stalled they usually have their flashing lights on and if not and they just happen to be around a curve in the road at night, it may result in an accident which is sad, but it happens. However, if someone drives a horse-drawn cart down a road designed for motor vehicles when it is dark and they refuse to use the proper safety devices to make themselves visible, that is a problem. I think those that disagree may never have lived where horses and buggies share highways and roads through town and seen what a mess it can be when cars, horses and semi-trucks all try to share the same road.
      Although I do thank you for giving me the mental image of a deer wearing a big orange triangle on its rear end when crossing roads! That would save a lot of people a lot of grief. LOL

      September 15, 2011 at 3:02 pm |
  12. Stole

    I'll throw in to pay on their fine. Send me a link.

    September 15, 2011 at 9:49 am |
  13. Nick

    In a collision between the buggy and a car/truck, the Amishman loses every time. They should realize this and put their bible down for a minute.

    September 15, 2011 at 9:47 am |
    • GT66

      By your logic, everyone should drive a cement truck because in a case of cement truck vs just about any other car, cement truck wins every time.

      September 15, 2011 at 10:11 am |
    • Nick

      My logic is that a little triangle could prevent a deadly incident, most likely for the Amish.

      September 15, 2011 at 10:16 am |
  14. hippypoet

    i don't think anyone has yet asked the real question... where was the buggy going? I was under the impression that everything the Amish needed is either grown at home or made at home... so why the hell are they branching out into the world of cities and cars? Not that they are not allowed to do so i am just asking why they were headed into a place where a CAR might hit them... which i still think would be hard if the driver of the MOTOR vichle had their lights on, and as we all know having your lights on at night helps to see things. Not having your lights on at night thats against the law! And after all this whole article is about how the amish don't like and how it goes against there religion to place bright signals on the dark black buggies which is also against the law! seems alittle circluar i mean as an arguement.

    September 15, 2011 at 9:45 am |
    • hippypoet

      its like saying "we licensed you to drive, now go and be dumb by not putting your lights on and instead of enforcing the law on you, i will instead create a new law stateing pretty much flat out that some people are just plain dumb and others should take precautions by placing a reflector sign on your car" retarded!

      September 15, 2011 at 9:51 am |
    • GT66

      The Amish live on farms separated by large tracts of open land. They "travel" to attend church and buy supplies and groceries (yeah, they eat food just like real people!). Many of the Amish have lived in areas before the roads were there. How many rural roads are simply on Amish buggy trails that were paved for YOUR car? This is very simply a case of the government abusing its power because it is too intellectually lazy to come up with a better solution. Quite literally, the government has chosen to jail men over the difference between a reflective stripe versus a triangle. Ridiculous.

      September 15, 2011 at 9:54 am |
    • A

      I don't know about this particular order, but in general Amish do tend to work in small towns. Their furniture goes over well in particular. They also need to shop, they aren't just self-contained.

      Also, these are large communities. Church travels each Sunday to a different member's home, so they must all travel to those homes and communities are miles across, just like any other rural communities outside of villages. They also travel to visit family members that are not on their own personal farm.

      Or maybe they just want to go down the street and enjoy time with friends? Being in a strict religious order doesn't make you a hermit or less than human. They have as much right to use the public roads and any cyclist, which in my opinion should also have giant triangles on their bikes.

      September 15, 2011 at 9:59 am |
    • thebbitz

      Alot of them will go into town to sell quilts, and fruits and vegetables and what not at farmersmarkets.

      September 15, 2011 at 9:59 am |
    • Marcus

      Hippypoet, you've never driven at night have you, and it's obvious you've never run up behind their black buggies on a black night on a rual road traveling at 50mph with just those reflectors reflecting your headlights! YOU CAN'T SEE THEM UNTIL YOUR LIGHTS HIT THAT REFLECTOR AND BY THEN YOU'RE RIGHT UP ON THEM! Thats why there are so many of them up here getting hit at night and at twilight! Nobody up here drive with our lights off, we're not stupid, just tired of hitting them AND having near misses!

      September 15, 2011 at 10:00 am |
    • Whorhay

      Our society is full of contradictions and such that make no logical sense. And while this super strict Amish sect is breaking the law in the strictest sense it's hardly worth the tax dollars to enforce it. They are already doing a lot to ensure the visibility of their buggies in the dark. And the people who live in the area know where to be on the lookout for them, for the rest of us there are caution signs all over the place.

      Personally I'm against religous allowances for most any law. But I'm more upset about wasting public funds enforcing laws where they aren't needed.

      September 15, 2011 at 10:02 am |
    • Whorhay

      @Marcus, I suppose you are going to start ticketing deer that don't wear the requsite orange triangle? Besides adding the triangle to their buggies is just another reflector, it's not some magical accident prevention device.

      If you are traveling too quickly to see and avoid road hazards, regardless of their nature, in time then you are already breaking the law yourself by traveling faster than is appropriate for conditions. The speed limit, is the upper limit under the best conditions, not a minimum regardless of conditions.

      September 15, 2011 at 10:08 am |
    • hippypoet

      Marcus

      Hippypoet, you've never driven at night have you, and it's obvious you've never run up behind their black buggies on a black night on a rual road traveling at 50mph

      an idiot traveling this fast on a road known to have Amish traveling on it as well....good arguement, wish i thought of that. or one could try drving the speed thats approiate to each road and its other drivers... but thats another law we need not discuss for it only makes you seem like a moron. weather you are or not, lets just wait till you hit some Amish going 50.

      stupid people should remain silent untill spoken to!!!!!!

      September 15, 2011 at 10:13 am |
    • Gina B

      Out to restaurants to eat, to shop at stores, visit the doctor, etc.. Some of the younger ones where I lived parked their buggy behind the bar at night...usually single young men coming in to play pool and just get out.
      There are different orders and some are more lenient than others. One group where I used to live, they weren't allowed to operate a motor vehicle but they could ride in one so they'd pay someone to drive them.
      Poor tippers in general (a lot tried to say it was against their religion to tip) but they make a mean apple pie that's worth every penny!

      September 15, 2011 at 6:56 pm |
  15. Dee Madison

    I guess since they don't have to pay taxes they don't have to comply with road regulations either. Also, ask them how much they make off their illegal puppy mill operations? Don't believe it.. next time stop by one of the farms and ask to go into their barn.. see what response u get.

    September 15, 2011 at 9:44 am |
    • GT66

      Another ignorant bigot. Learn to read. In the article, you'll see that it was mentioned that they attempted to comply with the law by putting all sorts of OTHER non religiously offensive reflectors on the buggies. Try it like this: imagine that the government said that you have to put a bright orange reflective cross or star of David on the back of your car. Ya think there wouldn't be protests over that?

      September 15, 2011 at 9:58 am |
  16. Ken C

    I can't imagine being dumb enough to be Amish in the first place.

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

      I'm with Ken C!

      September 15, 2011 at 9:53 am |
    • GT66

      You fools are what make America suck. Ignorant, shallow and devoid of any cultural empathy, mindless Walmart automatons.

      September 15, 2011 at 10:00 am |
    • William Demuth

      GT66

      So now America sucks?

      If it weren't for my kids, I might hope you got a chance to live in a world without it.

      September 15, 2011 at 10:34 am |
    • William Demuth

      Ken C

      If you take a child and indoctrinate them into a cult from birth, very few will ever leave it.

      It is not that their mind is weak, it is the fact that their spirit has been broken.

      Almost without exception, you will worship whomever or whatever you are told to as a child.

      September 15, 2011 at 10:36 am |
  17. Dzerres

    Yah, that restriction is right there in the Bible! Please, religious idiots I don't care what persuasion, are a bane on society. They should be glad society puts up with their horses on the public streets (there are laws after all how slow you can "drive" too that obviously doesn't apply to these folks). Hey, maybe I can operate my golf cart on the freeway – it's in the Bible people, right there in the back somewhere, at least the inference is 'cause I said it is.

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

      They don't drive on the freeway, what an ignorant comparison. There are signs that forbid non-motorized vehicles and impose a minimum speed, so of course your golfcart and their buggies are both banned.

      Having lived in both Amish areas and Trustfund-Hippieville USA, I think the cyclists on their $3000 bikes cause a lot more havoc on the roads than a few buggies here or there.

      September 15, 2011 at 10:02 am |
  18. tritam

    So....Why does it have to be a Triangle? Why cant the government settle for a box or a circle or stripes?

    September 15, 2011 at 9:43 am |
    • GT66

      That's exactly the point. They can settle for something else but they don't want to because they are the government and they get their jollies by pushing the little people around.

      September 15, 2011 at 10:15 am |
  19. Kevin R

    Sounds a lot like Sharia law except for Christians...

    September 15, 2011 at 9:41 am |
    • tritam

      What Christian law from the bible is being applied to the these men? I have never seen in the Bible where it says thou must put a orange triangle on your buggy?

      September 15, 2011 at 9:44 am |
  20. Darrell

    I am a Christian, and I believe the written word, that if we follow that word and live a life of obedience, we will surely be protected and provided for in God's care. In Hebrews Chapter 13, verse 17 it says "Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you, as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you". So as believers on this earth we must obey the law of the land by which we are governed. God requires us to do the things he commands us to do as our leaders of the law command us to do on this earth for our protection and safety. If it is a law that requires us to put and orange triangle on our black buggy to protect us from harm, so does Gods law require us to follow his commandments to protect us from harm. So a true believer will surely understand that we are held accountable by law on this earth, as in heaven. The question is, is it a man made belief they are following or is it a biblical belief they are following. The bible says submit to the law. I am only stating this for I care for their safety, and praying that they will do the right thing for themselves and their families. God Bless them.

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

      Yes Sir,... we must obey government in all except if the government contradicts with Word of God [Holy Bible] like saying that you must worship a certain way according to gov than we have to rebel because God's Word & law is above man and man's law.

      September 15, 2011 at 9:49 am |
    • bobalu

      Why would God say obey your leaders? Men and leaders are not infallible. Sounds like a leader inserted this part into the Bible. I'm sure Hitler loved this verse.

      September 15, 2011 at 9:53 am |
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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.