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. PassingThru

    leave these people alone. They do not cause any problems with the rest of society or the world. Why bother them? In PA, this would never fly. People would be all over the gov't for their rudeness.

    September 15, 2011 at 11:11 am |
    • Matilda

      They are not the only ones hurt in the accidents they cause. There's the problem.

      September 15, 2011 at 11:23 am |
    • MarkinFL

      In PA they seem to follow the worldly laws.

      September 15, 2011 at 11:58 am |
  2. Shawn

    "They believe that displays of "loud" colors should be avoided"?!?!?

    Aren't there bright "loud colors" in creation such as birds, butterflies, fish ect???

    The funny thing is is that no Amish will get to read any of this! LOL!

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

      Interesting you mentioned that the AMISH will not be able to read this. Then I thought can they read the smoke trails of an airplane writing text in the sky? Is that a NO NO also?

      September 15, 2011 at 1:40 pm |
  3. Emmett O'Riley

    The point I was trying to make is not whether the Amish are right or wrong. The point is the obvious intolerance of people or beliefs that are different from white bread America and the lack of understanding of different cultures. Many of the comments are thoughtful and well written but in many more it exposes the juvenile ignorance of the general public.

    September 15, 2011 at 11:08 am |
    • Ralf The Dog

      When those beliefs are a trap that rob the individual of the ability to live without the cult, the cult needs to be slapped down.

      September 15, 2011 at 11:10 am |
    • Michel Hunt Esq.

      No, it shows how many people enjoying trolling instead of getting work done. It says nothing about what the general public of this country actually thinks.

      September 15, 2011 at 11:20 am |
    • MarkinFL

      Never, EVER read a blog with the expectation of a well-reasoned, thoughtful expose. This is the worst of the worst type of public forum with all of the civility of a dog fight and none of the charm.

      September 15, 2011 at 12:00 pm |
  4. Jonathan Davis

    These are good people. their religous beliefs are not conflicting with the public interest or safety. Their use of lamps etc shows that they are trying to comply.
    The law should be amended in this case.

    September 15, 2011 at 11:08 am |
    • JAY

      this clearly shows how state violates their rights to their beliefs. all bout control and payroll , no more human rights

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

      Bull, by that argument, anyone could bypass any rule by implementing their own version of it, however inferior it might be and then yell CONTROL when the original rule is still enforced.

      However, if it can be shown that their reflective tape is just as visible as the orange triangle then they would have a good argument for allowing an exception/extension of the rule.

      September 15, 2011 at 12:10 pm |
  5. Robert Holt

    As a Christian I don’t have a problem with that orange triangle and I have never hear of a Christian having a problem with that triangle. I think in this case we have a sect that is applying man made traditions. If their problem with the orange triangle is Biblically based then I would say that they are misinterpreting and/or misapplying what the Bible says. I would not consider having the orange triangle on my vehicle as not trusting God for my safety. As a Christian, if required, I would have the orange triangle on my vehicle because 1. The Bible says to obey the law, and 2. I believe that God wants us to use good common sense and follow safety guidelines.

    September 15, 2011 at 11:07 am |
    • Jonathan Davis

      There are Christians and there are Christians.
      They object to the triangle because it represents the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. That doctrine is accepted by most but not all Christians. The Holy Trinity is not shown in the bible. PLEASE RESPECT OTHERS RELIGION

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

      Robert, Your Christian beleifs are no more correct than theirs. The Bible has been altered many many times by man, and we are merely following an interpretation that happens to fit with your belief system. We are not reading the exact word of God. This is why there are differences like the Catholics, vs Protestants, vs Morman etc. All are based on the Bible. To say that they are a sect or a cult is exposing your own myoptic view and your intillerance. These are incredibly devout people who are trying to comply with their beliefs and the law of the land as best they can, but they are being singled out by Law Enforcement that are as myoptic as you, possibly worse. These people keep to themselves and do not bother the "general population" at all. They want to be left alone to focus on their spirituality. Let them!

      September 15, 2011 at 11:24 am |
    • MarkinFL

      When you travel at 5 MPH on a 50 MPH highway, you are not leaving everyone else alone or keeping to yourself. Their rights have limits. They are attempting to dictate the safety rules of the majority users of the road. If you think it only affects them, try driving into the back of a buggy at high speed (any speed) and tell us how unaffected you were.

      September 15, 2011 at 12:13 pm |
  6. Ralf The Dog

    Too much ground has been given to the Amish slaves. They are raised in a very authoritarian culture where they are told how to dress and what to think. They are not allowed an education, thus, when they are old enough to walk away, they don't have the skills to support themselves. Their religion is a trap and people stuck in it need to be given a way out.

    September 15, 2011 at 11:07 am |
    • virtualgd

      Let the Amish be. They bother no one but if they do not want to abide by the laws of the state then they should not drive buggies on public streets. This is only fair to those who drive cars and is a safety issue.

      September 15, 2011 at 11:16 am |
    • Lydia

      Ralf, I've known a lot of Amish people over the years, and one thing they are most definitely NOT lacking are the skills to take care of themselves. Do you know how to grow your own crops, care for livestock, build your own home, make your own clothes, put up your own food, or otherwise survive without modern conveniences? You want to talk about being a slave to your culture, look at us–a few days without electricity at we lose our minds. Take away our grocery stores and we would starve. Uneducated, you say? Maybe they don't go to Ivy League colleges, but they DO receive an education. Just because they don't go on to four-year colleges to be cubical drones does not make them slaves to their religion.

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

      You nailed that one! =)

      September 15, 2011 at 12:15 pm |
    • MarkinFL

      Difference is that we all have a choice as to the level and type of education we receive. I am a techie that spent my summers farming and my free time camping. I am quite comfortable without technology, yet I make my living advancing technology. Personally, I do not care if the Amish remain the way they are for the next thousand years. OTOH, I do not see it as any special virtue either.

      September 15, 2011 at 12:17 pm |
  7. TAB

    While this may seem ridiculous, good on them for standing up to their beliefs. So many people nowadays dont identify with something larger then themselves, and when they do its shakey at best.

    September 15, 2011 at 11:07 am |
    • woo

      Shame on them for not following laws that keep humans safe. Shame on them for thinking they are special and superior because they erroneously believe that some undetectable being that defies the natural laws wishes for them to behave in non-sensible ways. Ridiculous beliefs need to be ridiculed not admired.

      September 15, 2011 at 11:21 am |
    • MarkinFL

      Talk about shaky.... Believing invisible Gods are offended by bright triangles is pretty shaky.

      September 15, 2011 at 12:19 pm |
  8. HockeyMinny

    I'm driving 80 mph righ now on I-71. I'm texting, while eating an Amish Big-Mac, listening to Amish Rap... but I'm not going to affix that darn orange triangle... I'll show those State Troopers who is in charge

    September 15, 2011 at 11:07 am |
  9. Paxtonboy

    Exceptions are made for other faiths, for example children under the legal drinking age can consume alcohol in religous ceremonies (mass). Granted they're referring to very small amounts, but it's an exception to the law nonetheless.

    September 15, 2011 at 11:05 am |
    • MarkinFL

      They can also consume medicine with small amounts of alcohol. So what?
      That exception does not cause anyone harm.

      September 15, 2011 at 12:20 pm |
  10. Kevin

    Personally I don't have license plates on my car, because my religion bans rectangles.

    September 15, 2011 at 11:05 am |
  11. Matt

    its a fu ckin buggy...if you cant see it then you shouldnt be allowed to drive. go around it.

    September 15, 2011 at 11:05 am |
    • Gromie


      September 15, 2011 at 11:15 am |
    • JefB

      Ever heard of NIGHTTIME? I'd love to know how you could see a black buggy on an unlit road at nighttime. They should be made to use the triangle, their rediculous religious beliefs be damned!

      September 15, 2011 at 11:40 am |
  12. Roy

    America, Land of the Free.. not so much..

    September 15, 2011 at 11:04 am |
    • MarkinFL

      Free to ram into the back of an black buggy at night on an unlit road.... Wonderful freedom you are arguing for.

      September 15, 2011 at 12:22 pm |
  13. tom

    First media stories usually get something wrong or leave something out.

    That being said, it sounds like these people have strong religious convicts about triangles and the Trinity and they were trying to address safety by other means - reflective tape and lanterns

    There has to be a way to work this out -- a Triangle is just part of a dumb law –tell me a square would not be just as visible at night

    work it out

    September 15, 2011 at 11:04 am |
    • MarkinFL

      These convicts certainly have convictions now. Anyway, I agree that shape should be an easy compromise. The hard part is reconciling color. A dull color is obviously less safe.

      September 15, 2011 at 11:11 am |
    • Drew

      Tom, there is a specific reason why it must be a triangle and not a square. ALL states are required to follow the MUTCD, Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices. This is a Federal standard that all states must follow so that when traveling from one state to another you have a uniform wat of controling traffic and vehicles of all types. The triangle symbolizes caution, or warning when pointed up. That was if you see the sign in CA, it means the same thing in GA. This is about safety of not only the buggy driver but the other drivers around them. I live in an area with a large Amish population and they must comply with the same law. Even the PA Dutch who are the most strict abide by the same laws.

      September 15, 2011 at 11:17 am |
    • tom

      a reflective square or diamond is just as good as a triangle especially since 99.9999999% of all drivers never read your stupid manual

      three stripes of reflective tape 3 lines would be just as good as long as they were just as big

      imagine the driver

      Oh! there is an Orange triangle ahead; there could be danger. I better swing to the left and hit that orange square because the MUTCD tells mean only triangles are dangerous

      September 15, 2011 at 11:59 am |
    • MarkinFL

      The color is still a legitimate issue. Reflective silver is not as notable as reflective orange. Perhaps if they covered the entire back side with reflective tape they could argue that it is more visible than the smaller orange triangle?

      September 15, 2011 at 12:24 pm |
  14. fastball

    The law of the land should always supersede any codes, creeds, mandates or suggestions that a religion or sect has imposed on themselves. Get used to it. I'm tired of acquiescing to these groups. Worship your god in whatever way you want – but do it within the laws of this country. If you don't like the laws of this country, then go find a country where they allow it.

    September 15, 2011 at 11:03 am |
    • Allen

      I think you missed most of what it means to live in America!

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

      Allen, actually no. We are specifically a country of laws. Laws that everyone is subject to on an equal basis. The government as well as individuals are restricted by the laws that are designed to be applied equally. It does not always work that way, but that is why we have the Supreme Court.

      September 15, 2011 at 12:26 pm |
  15. Larry L

    If they shun "worldly symbols" they'd be unable to abide by roadsigns or stop lights. All cults create ridiculous rules.

    September 15, 2011 at 11:03 am |
  16. William Demuth

    Actually, I believe Darwin is at work in this?

    No triangle equals more dead Amish and horses.

    Over generations, it shall have an impact

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

      You mean in addition to the short term impacts I assume....

      September 15, 2011 at 11:09 am |
  17. jj

    Tough call. We bend over backwards for so many nutty religious beliefs. I would think reflective tape and lanterns would be close enough for this small minority. Maybe an array of bright LED lights on the back – for all slow moving vehicles. They can hook a small generator up to the butter churn to recharge the batteries. ;>
    On the other hand, I've read they believe it is god's will if they are killed. Personally, I don't want to suffer a lifetime of guilt and anguish if I wiped out a family, just to please their idea of 'god's plan' !
    The bigger question is why are these contraptions allowed on our roads? I've come up on these things a few times in the fog. Totally unexpected and unsafe!

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

      Pretty self-centered of them not to consider the danger to the people that run into them.

      September 15, 2011 at 11:03 am |
    • Allen

      You question why horse drawn buggies are allowed on the roads because you couldnt see one in the fog? I assume you are in farm country if there are Amish, so I suppose you've never come across a tractor on the road in the fog, or bicyclists, or wildlife? Maybe you shouldnt be allowed on the roads!

      September 15, 2011 at 11:31 am |
  18. Sun

    Should it be a triangle only? why not a Polygon or a Hexagon?

    September 15, 2011 at 10:59 am |
    • Options

      There are so many other shapes, other that a Triangle- there is Heptagon,Octogon, Nonogan,Decagon...

      Choose one that will work for safety for everyone and move on!!!

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

      Color is still the primary sticking point. The problem is that avoiding garish colors is exactly the opposite of safety in this situation. Perhaps there is a way to dissociate themselves from the symbol. Complex rationalizations is a specialty of most religious sects. There must be some way to allow a bright marker to stay between them and traffic approaching from behind....
      Maybe they could hire a heathen to ride behind them on a bicycle with a big orange triangle.

      September 15, 2011 at 11:08 am |
  19. Loop

    @Shock18 – what you said.

    September 15, 2011 at 10:56 am |
  20. Shock18

    If they are not willing to comply with public safety standards, they whould not be allowed access to public roadways, plain and simple. And I am not ignorant, not do I dislike the Amish, I travel through a great deal of "amish country" here in PA, and most, if not all folks here comply.

    September 15, 2011 at 10:49 am |
    • HeavenSent

      Shock18, I suppose you're one of those fools that kill bears, dears, fox or any other wild animal that is looking for food and happens to be unlucky enough to to walk into your neighborhood that you originally stole from them.


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

      Oh boy, you did it now. HeavenSent is back.

      September 15, 2011 at 11:47 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.