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. belladonna

    I respect their beliefs, but surely they can understand that they are putting others at risk. Even with safety belts and airbags, some small cars (and their passengers) would fare badly colliding with a horse and buggy. The use of public, taxpayer provided roads by any persons must come with the understanding that those rules are for the safelty of all. If loud colors and symbols violate their beliefs, may I respectfully suggest they use a different form of transportation, or consider less travelled routes?

    September 15, 2011 at 11:47 am |
    • situational awareness

      Or maybe the real American way: compromise.

      Maybe a reflective strip alone the bottom... anything but a gaudy orange triangle that's an eyesore even during the day.
      There's more than 0 & 1 in this world, and it's time that people realize that again.

      September 15, 2011 at 11:51 am |
  2. adam

    situational awareness: By your logic, they can ignore yield signs because they are also triangular in shape.

    September 15, 2011 at 11:43 am |
    • situational awareness

      nope, they don't wear yield signs.

      September 15, 2011 at 11:52 am |
  3. SV

    I feel for the Amish who are trying to live within the spirit of the law by applying reflective tape and lights. However, laws are laws. We start bending them for the Amish then we start setting precedence for Muslims to argue in favor of Sharia Law. We can't look the other way for the Amish just because they didn't fly a plane into a building.

    September 15, 2011 at 11:40 am |
    • Brian K

      You are nuts. The reason the law is in place is for safety. They want to make sure no one runs in to these guys in low light. They put on reflective tape which is the exactly what the spirit of the law intended. You people who are afraid of Sharia law have really gone off the deep end.

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

      "Spirit" only counts if it actually fulfills the intent of the law. If the reflective tape is not equally notable under the same conditions then they have not met the spirit of the law. A poor attempt does not equal a satisfactory solution.

      September 15, 2011 at 12:30 pm |
  4. philtration

    I am an Atheist but if claiming that your religious beliefs make you exempt from the law then sign me up for Rastafarian!

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

      LOL, how about Pastafarian?

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


      September 15, 2011 at 11:41 am |
  5. Steve

    Pretty sure the bible says something about obeying the laws of the land... And why are they ok with living a 19th century era lifestyle, yet not a 21st century? They're still off by 1800 years if they're trying to live the lifestyle of that during the biblical era

    September 15, 2011 at 11:37 am |
  6. jimtanker

    I would love to see a story in which they are found at fault in an accident and get their @$$es sued. I'd love to take the farm from one of them.

    September 15, 2011 at 11:35 am |
    • Tom

      That may be one of the meanest things I've heard someone say. They're simple people who live apart from us. They're not bothering you. Why so much hostility?

      September 15, 2011 at 11:42 am |
    • sam

      You get the award for biggest fail of the day.

      September 15, 2011 at 11:49 am |
    • verbal13

      Here you go. 10 Year old driving buggy, pulls out in front of on coming traffic. Completely his fault:


      September 15, 2011 at 11:51 am |
    • kyfarmgirl

      yea, i am sure you would work the farm as hard as they do....you u a lazyazz heartless bummmmm....

      September 15, 2011 at 11:56 am |
    • hockeyminny

      Dude; Someone didn't love you when you were a kid

      September 15, 2011 at 11:34 pm |
  7. Mel B

    I too commend their devotion to their beliefs. They aren't forcing others to believe too, just only doing what is right for them. However, that triangle on slow moving vehicles is for just as much for their safety as it is for others. Perhaps the State can review safety shapes and find one that doesn't infringe on their beliefs? A long rectangle? A square?

    September 15, 2011 at 11:34 am |
    • jimtanker

      There is no reason for the state to compromise with these people. They either obey the law or pay the price. It's that simple.

      September 15, 2011 at 11:36 am |
    • P.L.K.

      or the could just you know NOT drive at night??? no triangle , no night time driving, really whats so taboo about a color and a shape oh no the reflective triangle is going to eat us.

      September 15, 2011 at 11:56 am |
  8. chibidw

    ....What if we made them into reflective crosses?

    September 15, 2011 at 11:31 am |
    • Jake

      great idea, i like this.

      September 15, 2011 at 11:35 am |
    • joe

      Did you read the part about them refusing to use worldly symbols?

      September 15, 2011 at 11:43 am |
  9. ROn

    Well no one is forcing them to drive their buggies! they could always walk!

    September 15, 2011 at 11:28 am |
    • situational awareness

      No ones forcing you to post either, just stop posting.

      September 15, 2011 at 11:34 am |
  10. Elle

    Is is okay to use a road constructed with modern equipment? If so, then they should have to abide by the laws of the road.

    September 15, 2011 at 11:27 am |
  11. kdog1964

    I don't care if one if them gets hit by a car, but don't put the horse in danger.

    September 15, 2011 at 11:27 am |
  12. Michel Hunt Esq.

    They have a right to believe whatever they want. They do not have a right to travel on roadways in a manner which violates the laws, laws which apply to EVERYONE in the state. The reflective orange triangle has been in use on vehicles for decades and is a universal symbol for caution. It is not a religious symbol. That it shares similarity to a religious symbol of theirs is irrelevant to the discussion because it is in fact not the same symbol. If they want to use roads which are paid for by the public, (they don't pay taxes by the way, they did not help fund the roads and therefore have no claim to its use) then they can comply with the same laws as everyone else.

    September 15, 2011 at 11:26 am |
    • Brian K

      If the reflective tape is equivalent or superior as far as visibility goes, then this shouldn't be an issue. The spirit of the law is about road safety, not about forcing triangles on people.

      September 15, 2011 at 11:52 am |
    • Michel Hunt Esq.

      The reflective tape is not equivalent or superior, it is merely supplemental. A person driving at night sees vertical reflective strips (as shown above) and says "what the heck is that?", and depending upon the conditions (fog, sharp turn, etc) they may not be able if it's on the road or not. If that same person sees an orange triangle, it is immediately understood that a slow-moving vehicle is on the road ahead and they need to slow down, because that is what the orange triangle means.

      September 15, 2011 at 3:14 pm |
  13. DH

    The amish do not pay taxes, if they want to use the road built by our tax dollars then follows the laws or stay off the road. They use horse and buggy which goes fine in the dirt and grass.

    September 15, 2011 at 11:25 am |
    • sum

      They do pay income taxes. If they are fine with going to jail, I don't see any problem here.

      September 15, 2011 at 11:53 am |
    • Nabob

      except they do pay taxes. and they were using the roads with horse and buggy before the roads were paved.

      September 15, 2011 at 11:59 am |
  14. jo

    I work in a rural area of Kentucky, routinely see amish driving their buggys on state roads all with the required triangle on the back. These people were in violation of the law on state property they should have to comply wtih our laws as everyone else does. Maybe if they felt it would compromise their beliefs they should have used a diamond shape and all probally would be fine.

    September 15, 2011 at 11:24 am |
  15. Kevin Hodge

    Keep them in jail. I want to see in their Bible the statement that says "no orange warning signs on your buggy". Put their ass in jail and leave them there until their Bible conforms.

    NO SIGN, then keep YOUR Buggy off the Road that "MY" tax dollars pay for. YOU certainly did not pay any taxes.

    September 15, 2011 at 11:22 am |
    • ladydi

      just like the muslims – think the're above the law!!!!

      September 15, 2011 at 11:26 am |
    • Jeff

      It's about their religion moron. Its about having humility. The Amish value conformity, not individualism. They believe bright colors or patterns attract attention to a person. Some of their clothes are fastened with straight pins or hooks, to avoid buttons, which might be a source of pride. It's about something most Americans are incapable of comprehending because most people are full of greed and selfishness. You demonstrate that perfectly in your rant.

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

      Jeff-if seeing buttons as a "sign of pride" isn't the be all and end all proof that religion is utter foolishness at its core, I don't know what is.

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

      Hey, dumb a$$. You have no idea what your talking about. Amish pay taxes just like you do. They are only exempt from paying Social Security Tax, which does not have anything to do with "your" roads.

      Dumb A$$

      September 15, 2011 at 11:38 am |
    • situational awareness

      You see, it's not as simple as that, and to put it in a way you can understand.
      What if you were in a world where everyone had to have a long pink "I am gay" logo on the back of there cars, because it made people see the cars better.
      You refused to, because it wasn't your belief, and even if you were gay you wouldn't want such a thing on your vehicle. Well, the government forces you to have this huge triangle attached to the rear of your car that's big and pink with a flaming rainbow across it and "I love everyone, equally.. very equally.." underneath it.

      That sums it up. They just don't want the gay triangle on their ride.

      September 15, 2011 at 11:39 am |
    • Yoder

      Hey, dumb a$$. You have no idea what your talking about. Amish pay taxes just like you do. They are only exempt from paying Social Security Tax, which does not have anything to do with "your" roads.

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

      @Jeff They're putting other people in danger, we shouldn't need to bow to their beliefs if it puts others who do not share them at risk.

      September 15, 2011 at 11:43 am |
    • Jeff

      "They're putting other people in danger, we shouldn't need to bow to their beliefs if it puts others who do not share them at risk"

      Have you ever gone to farm country? There is laws that vehicles that are for farms are exempt from inspection etc in the Midwest. Those vehicles are on our roads and many are completely unsafe. I have seen cars that don't have hoods, side panels, tires that are at an angle and wobble while driving down the road. What is hilarious is you're worried about an orange triangle. Some perspective might help your narrow mind set.

      September 15, 2011 at 11:48 am |
    • sam

      @situational – really? That's your comparison? That seemed like a good idea to post?

      September 15, 2011 at 11:54 am |
    • situational awareness

      @sam – Not a comparison, a reduction into something that can be understood by someone putting down someone for not doing something that would be extremely against their own beliefs.
      Thanks for the inquiry, though.

      September 15, 2011 at 12:05 pm |
  16. Baker1

    I live near a large Amish community. Over the past 20 years, we have had some really horrific accidents involving buggies that were not well marked. Perhaps they could make it a different shape and color? Anything to save lives.

    September 15, 2011 at 11:21 am |
    • Kevin Hodge

      Baker1. NO, NO, NO................ at some point, someone has to stand up to the various religious beliefs and say...."this is the way it is for ALL" when it comes to "just plan-o common sense". Driving on the road does not have a damn thing to do with religion.

      September 15, 2011 at 11:24 am |
    • Kevin Hodge

      Go by the rules or just ask your god to give you WINGS and you can fly around....................un-believe able.............

      September 15, 2011 at 11:25 am |
    • jimtanker

      Well spoken, someone with some common sense.

      September 15, 2011 at 11:26 am |
    • DH

      Answer is..... They need to stay off the roads our tax dollars built. I understand religous believes but when their actions can kill others as you said about the accidents, then it is time to make a change.

      September 15, 2011 at 11:29 am |
    • ToldUso

      Kevin, stand up to these religious beliefs, "this is the way it is for all"? Really? OK, so abortion, opposed on religious grounds, should not be an issue then.

      September 15, 2011 at 11:38 am |
    • situational awareness

      I used to live near lancaster myself (I refuse to say 'intercourse'...oh the irony), and it's not that bad. Even without one of the triangles, I've been able to see their buggies on the road in the pitchblack of night. I use my head lights, and I never drive faster than I can see in front of me to react.

      I feel bad if a deer runs across the road, you'd be toast... wow...

      September 15, 2011 at 11:43 am |
  17. Mark Fleury

    As someone who lives in Northern New York on the Canadian border, we have a huge Amish population that continuously getting bigger, I have some feelings on this issue. I understand there are religious beliefs etc to take into consideration but it's about safety. We have had countless accident's around my area, some causing death to driver or vehicle, some to the Amish in the buggy's and the horses put down if they survive. We are talking about them traveling in the pitch dark of night on these back roads in this rural area that are hardly big enough for two cars to pass each other...it's just crazy to put everyone in that situation.

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

      Mark, I too drive the roads of northern New York–I drive Rt 37 from Ogdensburg down to Watertown and the backroads from LaFargeville to Redwood to Brier Hill and Hammond. I frequently come across Amish buggies–on dark, foggy or rainy nights it scares me to death. I drive exceptionally cautiously but fear that one day I may hit a buggy and cause injury or death. It is unfair that the Amish subject me to a possible accident where I will have to live with my conscience. They must be made to follow some very basic, common sense, traffic safety measures. They can, of course, choose to simply "not drive", but if they "drive", then they must adhere to some responsible measures to allow co-use of the roads without risking the safety and welfare of others.

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

      I am in the same area. I almost hit one on the way to work today. I wish they could see how selfish and immoral it is to jepordize other peoples lives for their own beliefs.

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

    To the Amish,

    We salute you for showing the world what forgiveness is truly all about!

    We hope that this issue will be resolved for you and you can live Peace!!!!!

    September 15, 2011 at 11:17 am |
    • Kevin Hodge

      The Amish are good people...........however, they have a couple of Jack Wagons making them look like idiots.

      September 15, 2011 at 11:27 am |
    • Matilda

      And we'll paint our medevacs black, too. That way we're not forcing you to ride in a worldly colored helicopter when flying to the trauma center.

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

      Psst... There's a good chance that NO Amish person will see your intentionally good posting. It's a nice gesture though

      September 15, 2011 at 11:46 am |
  19. Brad

    Their devotion to their beliefs is commendable. It does not exclude them from the law.

    September 15, 2011 at 11:14 am |
    • Kevin Hodge


      September 15, 2011 at 11:27 am |
    • situational awareness

      The people are the law, they are people also.

      It's one of those laws created during the nerf era of politics, anyway. Even tractors look stupid with it.

      September 15, 2011 at 11:47 am |
  20. William Demuth

    Can't we use the glow in the dark cat gene on the horses?

    Granted, this is stupid, But I REALLY want a Glow in the Dark Pony for Christmas!

    September 15, 2011 at 11:13 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.