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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. Amanda

    Wow, I'm from Delaware and in the last few years we have had a number of car/buggy wrecks in our area. One night Amish teenagers went to the movies (yes I know) at our local mall about 10-15 miles from where they typically live. Their buggy either came untied or came loose and ended up going the opposite direction on a three lane highway at night and caused a wreck, killing the horse. http://www.doverpost.com/news/x512360258/Run-away-Amish-buggy-crashes-near-Dover-Mall-horse-destroyed
    These buggies are really hard to see, especially on dark and bind-curve back roads. The orange triangle is the only aspect of the buggy that can be seen from a distance. We mainly have two lane back roads with no shoulders, so cars go fifty and buggies go 15. I would image it would be the relatively the same in Kentucky. Religion doesn't take the place of common sense. I respect them and their way of life, however, their way of life does not have the right to put the rest of us at risk. It will be the motorist that lands in prison when they hit a buggy filled with small children that they didn't see and it won't matter why. Maybe a compromise would be to only put the reflector on the buggy at night or change it to a different shape. I sincerely hope they realize how dangerous their decisions are and that they have consequences. The consequences to us in our society are severe.

    September 15, 2011 at 10:46 am |
    • Edward

      How many car on car and lone car wrecks did you also have compared to buggy wrecks? How many cars have hit bicycle riders compared to buggies hitting bicycle riders? Accidents happen no matter what and pointing to just buggy accidents is misleading. It is only common sense if you are in an area with buggies, bicycles, pedestrians, schools, playgrounds, etc. YOU NEED TO DRIVE SLOWER. Also I realize that many are just dead against any religion or religious beliefs so that take every opportunity to make that point. But many of these same folks have no problem with an "exception" in the law for "medicial mariijuana" but gone crazy over just the concept of an exception of a reflective triangle on a horse driven buggy.

      September 15, 2011 at 11:13 am |
    • Observer

      Edward,

      Bicycles are required to have reflectors. There are a lot more bikes and there would be far more accidents.

      September 15, 2011 at 11:40 am |
    • Shadowflash1522

      @Edward:
      I hear you, but the Amish are the only group among the ones you listed that are flagrantly protesting a measure to help keep them safe. An unadorned black buggy pulled by a brown horse and a black car with no lights on are equally hard to see on a poorly lit backroad at night. The latter is illegal; why not the former?

      As for slowing down, accident severity is in direct proportion to the speed difference. A speed difference of merely 30 mph will result in a fatality 20% of the time. At 35 mph the chance rises to 50% (stats from http://www.car-accident-claim.com/car-accident/a-look-at-the-impact-of-speeding-on-car-accidents.htm). With that said, a buggy doing 10mph and a law-abiding car driver doing 45mph on the same backroad: 45-10 = 35mph. Unless you want to legislate that cars chug along at 20 miles an hour, yelling SLOW DOWN is hardly a tenable solution. Both sides have to give a little here.

      September 15, 2011 at 11:44 am |
    • Amanda

      Edward, my point was a safety point not a religious point. A dark horse with a dark buggy on a dark back road at night is dangerous without some type of reflective material; they cannot be seen from behind at ANY SPEED. Mind you some of Amish out in buggies late at night are playing music and drinking beer. I happened to go slow enough to see and hear this. Cars and bikes and every other motor vehicle are required to have lights and reflectors. The likely hood of people dying in a car on car crash has been seriously decreased because of safety innovations. Comparing car on car to car on buggy is misleading because the latter is so much more dangerous to the people in the buggy. 50 MILES AN HOUR IS ACCEPTABLE SPEND ON A BACKROAD, it happens to be the speed limit. This has nothing to do with "being against religion" its about safety on the road. Really

      September 15, 2011 at 9:57 pm |
  2. Jim

    Those strict Amish really think that they can live an entire life without using something involving a triangle directly or indirectly some way or another? I am sorry but that is one of the most ridiculous things I have ever heard in my life. So many people are going to hell for using triangles! WE ARE ALL GOING TO HELL FOR USING TRIANGLES!!!! HAHAHAHA!!!!!

    September 15, 2011 at 10:44 am |
    • Ali Ahmed

      We only eat Halal meat and we don't eat pork because we believe we go to hell? is that funny to you as well?

      September 15, 2011 at 10:55 am |
    • Carl

      The Amish are the best people in the world. I work for the police force and its sad how much police hours and time this case has taken. I can see the buggies just fine at night out on patrol. They have the reflectors on the buggie and even the horses have a couple reflectors on them.

      September 15, 2011 at 11:09 am |
    • jimtanker

      Yes Ali, it is silly. It comes from ancient traditions from when people noticed that people died or got ill after eating pork. That was before we found out that not cooking pork thoroughly can allow trichinosis to survive to infect us. Pretty simple really, go ahead and believe your fairy tales though.

      September 15, 2011 at 11:14 am |
    • Mclubben

      Yes, Ali... Yes it is....

      September 15, 2011 at 11:50 am |
    • Jim

      Yes Ali it is!

      September 15, 2011 at 12:18 pm |
  3. AJamstA

    Ridiculous religion I feel. Amish people are shweird!

    September 15, 2011 at 10:44 am |
  4. Smokin What?

    These Amish elders will be the same ones screaming when their son Ezekiel Yoder is smashed under the steering axle of a Peterbilt conventional semi-tractor because he refused to stick a reflector on his Wooden buggy.

    September 15, 2011 at 10:43 am |
    • Mary

      Actually, they would have the belief that it is Gods will. In their religion anything that happens is the way it was meant to be in life.

      September 15, 2011 at 10:52 am |
    • KeithM

      No they won't. The Amish are different from us. They will not resort to the law courts or the courts of public opinion. They will not seek revenge on the driver that hits one of their buggies. You and I may find them strange or even incomprehensible, but their beliefs are sincere and they do a pretty good job of living to them.

      September 15, 2011 at 10:57 am |
  5. Frank Garrett

    The Amish religion is all a scam anyway, google Amish Cell Phone

    September 15, 2011 at 10:41 am |
  6. Sun

    The article clearly states that the Amish want to comply with the laws and are concerned about safety.

    "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."

    September 15, 2011 at 10:40 am |
    • Peace

      'Tolerance' and work out a symbol that is not offensive to the Amish!

      September 15, 2011 at 10:42 am |
  7. Frank Garrett

    After they are released from the joint they're gonna party like its 1699

    September 15, 2011 at 10:40 am |
    • Smokin What?

      Frank, thank's for the laugh. Made my morning.

      September 15, 2011 at 10:40 am |
    • OldGoat

      Good one!

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

      Good one!!!

      September 15, 2011 at 10:59 am |
  8. Luis Wu

    This reminds me of a story about a medal of honor winner that got a ticket. Everyone was saying "Oh he was a hero, they shoulld have let him slide". He was a senile old man, 87 years old, driving 85 miles an hour in 60mph zone! He could have killed you and your children or me and my children! Sorry, when you break the law you pay the consequences. Medal of honor winner, Amish or whatever. If you can't obey the law, then don't drive. Period.

    September 15, 2011 at 10:38 am |
  9. Sheldrake

    Sigh - the issue at hand is religious freedom and public safety, not Amish theology. I don't know why everyone seems so eager to decide the issue based on their judgment of Amish theology - something the lay observer does not understand (as reflected in the comments).

    Fortunately there's plenty of data on this issue - Amish have been driving triangle-less buggies in great numbers for many years in places like Ohio and Pennsylvania and the data clearly shows there is no increased risk associated with or without reflective triangles. Accident rates involving buggies are quite low, and when they result in fatalities or serious injuries the Amish are the victims and the vehicle driver is almost invariably at fault.

    It's telling this happened in Kentucky, and not in Ohio or Pennsylvania, where civil authorities have vastly more experience dealing with the Amish and would never pull something like this thinking it's going to be helpful to anyone involved.

    September 15, 2011 at 10:37 am |
    • 123YIPPEE

      They should stop being such whiny b!tches and put the triangle on there.

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

      @Sheldrake

      You said, "Sigh – the issue at hand is religious freedom and public safety, not Amish theology. I don't know why everyone seems so eager to decide the issue based on their judgment of Amish theology – something the lay observer does not understand (as reflected in the comments)."
      The issue at hand is, most certainly, not religious freedom. Freedom of religion does not include the freedom to break the law. Amish theology is entirely irrelevant.

      You said, "Fortunately there's plenty of data on this issue – Amish have been driving triangle-less buggies in great numbers for many years in places like Ohio and Pennsylvania and the data clearly shows there is no increased risk associated with or without reflective triangles. Accident rates involving buggies are quite low, and when they result in fatalities or serious injuries the Amish are the victims and the vehicle driver is almost invariably at fault."
      If your data is correct, then a change in the law could be in order. If there is scientific evidence supporting your claim that alternate methods are equally effective, and don't add additional burdens on the rest of society, the laws can be amended.

      You said, "It's telling this happened in Kentucky, and not in Ohio or Pennsylvania, where civil authorities have vastly more experience dealing with the Amish and would never pull something like this thinking it's going to be helpful to anyone involved."
      Dealing with the amish anywhere shouldn't be any different from dealing with anyone else. Just because someone can't seem to shed their irrational beliefs, doesn't make them special.

      September 15, 2011 at 10:51 am |
  10. gwolf

    we dont make any of islamic people follow our rules why should we start now with the amish

    September 15, 2011 at 10:37 am |
    • MarkinFL

      Whjch rules are the Muslims exempt from? I hadn't heard about that one yet...

      September 15, 2011 at 10:38 am |
    • Observer

      gwolf,

      Absolute nonsense. Just wishful thinking on your part.

      September 15, 2011 at 10:42 am |
    • july4th1776

      To MarkinFL and Observer – try the push being made by Muslims in Michigan that women shouldn't be required to remove their burqa for their driver's license photos.

      September 15, 2011 at 10:55 am |
    • MarkinFL

      Has the law been changed for them? Didn't think so.

      September 15, 2011 at 11:01 am |
  11. JarMat

    Try living in Holmes County Ohio, They are everywhere. Those highly reflected tape strands are not that bright and the lanterns are WORTHLESS!

    September 15, 2011 at 10:36 am |
  12. Edward

    You have to love the concept that there are 10's of millions of illegal aliens in this country and that crime is completely ignored by many States and the Federal government. It is now to the point where the Obama administration by executive order will now not even deport anyone unless they basically have presviously killed someone. But drive a horse driven buggy without an orange triangle (a major crime problem!!!) and the full weight of the law comes down on you. At least these Amish are willing to pay the price for breaking the law and go to jail – more than can be said about illegal aliens and those that support them.

    September 15, 2011 at 10:36 am |
    • MarkinFL

      Gee, do you post this on every blog following an article about minor legal infractions?

      Actually, I'm sure you do.

      September 15, 2011 at 10:39 am |
    • Edward

      MarkinFl – Do you always defend illegal aliens on the one hand and want other laws enforced on the other – I'm sure you do. If you are going to argue that Amish must obey the law then at least expect illegal aliens to obey the law. If you are against exceptions to the law then also be against the "exception" for "medical marijuana".

      September 15, 2011 at 11:28 am |
    • sam

      I guess we could just put the triangles on the illegal aliens instead.

      September 15, 2011 at 11:37 am |
    • Observer

      Edward,

      Do you always have such a tough time staying on topic?

      September 15, 2011 at 11:41 am |
  13. Robert

    Personally I say they should follow our laws. I mean we don't have seperate laws for other religeons, races, etc.
    If you are going to live in the USA, you should be required to follow their laws. I mean they don't pay road use taxes anyway, tell them they can't ride their buggies on or along side of our roads. Tell them to make their own roads through their property, otherwise at least follow our basic traffic laws. I mean if you hit one of them, it don't involve just them.

    September 15, 2011 at 10:34 am |
    • Luis Wu

      Absolutely!

      September 15, 2011 at 10:40 am |
    • nebraska

      Actually we do have different laws for different people. They may not actually be on the books but people of different religions and races are treated differently every single day – both better AND worse.

      September 15, 2011 at 10:41 am |
    • Edward

      The Amish own farms, buy goods, some have jobs, etc. – they do pay taxes. They use far less government services and handouts than any other group – so in many ways they are our most "cost effective" citizens. As to the organe triangle – why not just change the law to allow reflective tape on horse driven buggies. There are not many horse driven buggies, they would still be reflective, it hurts no one, and it allows them to follow their religious beliefs. Kind of like letting a mosque violate a lot of noise ordinance to blast their call to prayers over loudspeakers – at least the Amish are quiet.

      September 15, 2011 at 10:46 am |
  14. hippypoet

    the ONLY SOLUTION ready? learn to drive!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! done, and we offend no religious group.. which i just want to make clear i am not above offending anything, i just can't stand dumb moronic texting children behind the wheel of what is now become a death machine.

    September 15, 2011 at 10:33 am |
    • Sun

      Right on Hippy and people are still callous about texting and driving....

      Leave the Amish alone!

      September 15, 2011 at 10:38 am |
    • HockeyMinny

      I say we paint the horses with that reflective orange paint

      September 15, 2011 at 11:02 am |
  15. Eric

    Just an FYI here. The Amish aren't shunning "triangles", they're shunning bright colors. You're making them sound geometricophobic.

    September 15, 2011 at 10:31 am |
    • Dude

      Did you even read the article, the triangle is also a holy symbol.

      September 15, 2011 at 10:36 am |
    • Lawrence

      Every slow moving vehicle which includes buggies, tractors, construction vehicles and the like are required to have the bright orange triangles. This sect still has to follow the laws of the land. Black or white triangles would not work. Has anyone here driven down the highway and came across a buggy at night without the triangle one would see only a outline of black with a dim red lights in the back only as one gets closers one is able to see that the outline is a buggy. The problem is at 55 to 70 MPH by the time one gets close enough to determine the object in the road one might be too late to prevent an accident.

      September 15, 2011 at 10:53 am |
  16. Frank Garrett

    So what's going to happen once they get out of jail? They are going to ride around without the triangle and get arrested again?

    September 15, 2011 at 10:30 am |
    • MarkinFL

      There is a very high recidivism rate among those that refuse the orange triangle. A week in prison will have merely hardened them into ruthless scofflaws that will stop at nothing to remain invisible, moving among us like shadows! They have been driving everyone buggy for years and now the real conflict will begin. Man vs. machine. God vs. bright colors! Who will win? I don't know!

      September 15, 2011 at 10:44 am |
    • William Demuth

      MarkinFL

      I hear the Feds have Anti-Buggy mines ready to be deployed

      September 15, 2011 at 10:53 am |
    • Lawrence

      They could get killed or cause someone to get killed and be up for vehicular manslaughter. May be they need to be forced to watch, "Blood on the Buggy" or "Buggy vs. the horseless carriage" or my favorite "Buggies pieces on the road."

      September 15, 2011 at 11:02 am |
    • sam

      They've been tapped to star in the next Fast and Furious movie.

      September 15, 2011 at 11:39 am |
  17. Veronica

    I live in a community in Pennsylvania with a very large majority of the polulation being Amish.. The buggies on the roads are a danger that people in cars deal with every day- even with reflective materials on their buggies they are extremely hard to see, especially at night, in rain, fog, snow, ect. The least that they can do is use the reflective materials required by the state for safety reasons. There is no rational thinking person who would think that they are going to be damned to hell for using a reflective triangle that can protect them from being killed or killing someone else.

    September 15, 2011 at 10:30 am |
    • Sun

      Read the article:

      Via points out that the Swartzentruber Amish use 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.

      September 15, 2011 at 10:36 am |
    • Dude

      Sun, did you even bother to read her comment.

      September 15, 2011 at 10:40 am |
    • MarkinFL

      Veronica, you used the term "rational thinking person" in the same paragraph that refers to people that are militant Luddites because they believe an invisible all-powerful being has told them that they are only allowed to use 19th century technology.

      Remember, for some reason they can use technology invented before a certain mysterious date. And there is some arcane method to determine just how much "modern" technology they CAN use (i.e. reflective tape).

      These poor souls have to spend half there lives just trying to figure out how to remain as unmodern as possible in a modern world. No "rational" is not a rational term to use in this context.

      September 15, 2011 at 10:50 am |
  18. dion

    What it comes down to is if you make an exception then you must make an exception to all. So if there is a slow moving farm tractor then the rule does not apply to him as well. The law must be blind or else it does not work. The only exceptions are rules which are an addendum to the law when written in. If the Amish are exempt then write it in but then be prepared for suits that claim religious favoritism. You can't have it both ways.

    September 15, 2011 at 10:28 am |
    • MarkinFL

      Any "exception" would have to be universal or it would be a form of religious discrimination to make it only available to the Amish. Perhaps you could make the exception specific to horse-drawn conveyances, which would make it pretty specific to the Amish and a few random folk that would just do it for the sake of doing it.

      September 15, 2011 at 10:53 am |
    • William Demuth

      MarkinFL

      I would LOVE to see someone take a Horse on the Grand Central Parkway!

      September 15, 2011 at 10:55 am |
  19. Frank Garrett

    Were they given a special jail cell with no lights? Cuz otherwise that would be against their religion. Also they probably can't eat the prison food.

    September 15, 2011 at 10:27 am |
    • Benzin

      you misunderstand the Amish faith
      my understanding is that their religion does not prohibit modern technology, but rather vanity, which modern terch falls under
      there are exceptions and pretty much every other Amish group uses orange triangles and reflective tape, along with synthetic rope, modern medicine, and sometimes even propane or natural gas stoves over original or replica cast iron wood burning stoves (apparently it's vain to spend too much on something)
      some Amish groups even allow riding on airplanes or buses so long as they do not drive and they only do it when necessary

      refusing the food and requiring special food would be vain, as would equiring any special accomodations
      but these are the most strict sect, so it could be different

      September 15, 2011 at 10:40 am |
    • MarkinFL

      Wouldn't insisting on exemption from a standard safety law, that also affects other people's safety, due to your personal beliefs be pretty darn vain?

      September 15, 2011 at 10:56 am |
  20. dennisness

    To those who think religion is not exempt from the law- many zoning laws in nearly every state allow exceptions for religious signs or crosses as we know them. If they mark the buggies with a cross are they "legal"?

    September 15, 2011 at 10:26 am |
    • dion

      Those days are being challenged and religious signs are being taken down. Signs on City vehicles in LA, CA were revised to remove the "cross". There was a cross on state property that was removed. The climate for religious signs has come under challenge and eventually it may go as far as the monetary denominations we call money. It's just a matter of time and practicality.
      Just to let everyone know it does not affect me but to some it is a concern.

      September 15, 2011 at 10:34 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.