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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. me

    Religious zealotry is a form of insanity.

    September 15, 2011 at 12:19 pm |
  2. Bubba Gump

    Another thing about symbols, they are symbols only because you place some value into them. If they have no value to you they cease to be a symbol. The nazi swatiska was highjacked and will now always be associated with evil.

    A symbol is defined as a thing that represents or stands for something else, esp. a material object representing something abstract. In this case the orange triangle is universally understood to signify a slow moving vehicle and nothing else. If they don't like the bright orange, maybe we should change it to pink...oh wait the pink triangle was used in the concentration camps to denote gay men...better not use that.

    Why not just paint a big "SLOW" on their buggy...oh wait that is English and more and more we have to be bi, tri and even quadralingual, so that won't work either!

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

      The orange triangle is the universal symbol in the United States designating a slow moving vehicle. It has nothing to do with religion.

      September 15, 2011 at 12:15 pm |
  3. Thor

    Of course, there is always the old fallback; "Survival of the fittest"; or "The stupid shall be punished"; or "Thinning of the herd by natural selection"! Eventually all of these types of hazards will be eliminated from the road.... by god or truck!

    September 15, 2011 at 12:07 pm |
    • Matilda

      Unfortunately, the dead guy driving the truck wasn't at fault. Neither were the little kids in the back of the buggy.

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

      Matilda... you are right. Absolutely. I was hoping that the others see that there IS a very real danger to not being able to see these BLACK and SLOW MOVING carts that have NO LIGHTING whatsoever on them, that in the shadows of a road are absolutely INVISIBLE. Those of us who have driven long distances an by the way DO use the backroads (psst... not all deliveries are made at the shoulder of an interstate highway!) . These things are VERY hard to see after a couple of hours behing the wheel, when the shadows of trees and homes give great concealment to a BLACK buggie. I just don't see why people don't recognize the threat to life these things really are.

      September 15, 2011 at 12:22 pm |
  4. Dawnarie

    Here in Amish country in Northern Indiana and South West Michigan, the law says they have to have the triangle also. I don't know of too many Amish having a problem with it.

    September 15, 2011 at 12:07 pm |
    • Cedar Rapids

      different Amish factions have different rules.

      September 15, 2011 at 12:51 pm |
  5. tom

    Is it Sharia law or the Bible that says adulters should be stoned to death?

    It is both -- If you want to follow the Bible word for Word you are going to be a lot more like a Muslim

    September 15, 2011 at 12:03 pm |
    • Lola

      yep

      September 15, 2011 at 12:08 pm |
    • khanji48

      this is exactly why Quran was sent because you stopped following the Bible and made changes in it according to your taste

      September 15, 2011 at 12:22 pm |
    • C Carter

      The old covenant (Old Testament) of the Holy Bible set forth certain requirements for atonement with God of all kinds of various sins. These punishments are what most people spew forth without reading and understanding the Bible as a whole. Jesus Christ established the new convenant (New Testament) with his sacrifice. In his covenant (read: ageement), you are more familiar with the saying: Let he who is without sin cast the first stone. I only hope you choose to use this as a starting point into learning about the books you reference incorrectly in this situation.

      September 15, 2011 at 12:24 pm |
    • William Demuth

      C Carter

      So then the OT is null and void?

      You SURE about that?

      HAHAHAHAHA

      September 15, 2011 at 12:30 pm |
    • C Carter

      William Demuth

      The Old Testament is certainly not null and void. Jesus even validated the Old Testament as far as accuracy and understanding. Adultery is still wrong, as are many other things. However, we should leave the judging and punishment to God (particulary where the violations present harm to society) and be focused on being critical of ourselves first. There are countless websites discussing the topic of Jesus "changing" the laws. Again, please research before incorrectly referencing these arguments that don't apply or are mis-represented.

      If you care to further discuss, I will be glad to. However, I do not wish to lead the commentary farther away from the article's subject.

      September 15, 2011 at 1:02 pm |
  6. Mr. Krinkle

    Please get your facts straight about the Amish and taxes . . . the Amish pay all taxes except for Social Security, welfare, and unemployment (they are also barred from receiving funds from these social programs as a result). Property, income, and sales taxes are paid by the Amish on the State, Federal, and local (where applicable) levels like every other citizen.

    Now – don't get me wrong. I do not believe these men are exempt from following a law universally applied to all that operate a vehicle on the road. To claim this is aimed at them solely is a flim-flam excuse to be pardoned of the law – anyone can claim some portion of the law violates their personal liberty – that's the price of being a member of society. We are all asked to give up a little or restrain ourselves in the name of civility . . .

    September 15, 2011 at 12:01 pm |
    • vintage274

      We don't pay separate unemployment taxes or "welfare" taxes. The Amish choose not to apply for or receive social services, but by law they pay the same taxes as everyone else.

      September 15, 2011 at 12:13 pm |
  7. Bubba Gump

    Well if the gubbmint requires certain things to be met to do certain things and you do not do them, you pay the cost. You are required by law to have insurance to drive a car but people don't and get caught and get fined. This is no different. The triangle is not something specific to the Amish or even that specific group of Amish. The triangle is for ALL slow moving vehicles, tractors, hilo's, bulldozers and so on. The bright orange is to draw your attention. Maybe a bright orange circle?

    How about flashing hazards? Oh wait, that would make them electric and they don't believe in that. Maybe require someone other than the driver to be present at all times and light candles and quickly blow them out and repeat so they have flashing lights?

    September 15, 2011 at 12:01 pm |
  8. boogietime

    Glad KY is busy putting dangerous criminals behind bars. Who knows how much murder and mayhem these guys would have caused if they had not been jailed.

    September 15, 2011 at 12:01 pm |
    • What

      They use high quality reflector tapes, lanterns and red reflector lights... and you still can't see them??? it is not a bug it is a buggy and they are not driving on the freeways for goodness sakes....

      Choose a shape that is not offensive to their beliefs and Leave the Amish alone!

      September 15, 2011 at 12:12 pm |
    • Steve14

      No kidding!!

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

      Usually, all highway regulations are changed only because of a death count. Get it?

      September 15, 2011 at 12:18 pm |
    • Cedar Rapids

      so when someone breaks the law then refuses to pay the fine you think the response should be what exactly?

      September 15, 2011 at 12:53 pm |
    • boogietime

      revoke their drivers license obviously

      September 15, 2011 at 2:13 pm |
  9. 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, the traffic engineer manual that no one has read, tells mean only triangles are dangerous

    September 15, 2011 at 12:00 pm |
    • Thor

      You have no clue how they came up with the orange triangle .... do you?

      September 15, 2011 at 12:16 pm |
  10. Amit-Atlanta-USA

    One of the most MISUNDERSTOOD terms here in America is FREEDOM!

    We must be prepared to forego some freedoms when our lives, limbs, national security is at stake. That's true here also.

    To give you guys my own example as a non-white, non-Christian (Hindu) recent immigrant from India, I am more than happy to forego my freedoms at the AIRPORT, when I am routinely pulled aside for added checks b'coz of my looks. I must say that every time I congratulate AIRPORT SECURITY for doing the right thing, rather than wasting limited time & resources checking much less risky other Americans, ONLY B'COZ I DON'T WANT A PAKISTANI / ARAB ISLAMIC TERRORIST who looks like me to get away with limited security checks to GET ON MY PLANE & BLOW IT UP!

    Likewise we Hindus welcome FBI monioring of our temples just to make sure that we are NOT conspiring against our adapted homeland, the way some Muslims do!

    LET's BE REAL PLEASE!

    September 15, 2011 at 12:00 pm |
    • Amit-Atlanta-USA

      Just to give another analogy, I would expect anyone sitting in my car to buckle up, even if he/she is not bothered about their own safety, ONLY b'coz I don't want him/her to kill me if we get into a crash!

      September 15, 2011 at 12:29 pm |
    • MarkinFL

      Amit, you may not be bothered, but I am. The problem is that an entire race is targeted for harsh treatment through no fault of their own. It is also used by bigots as an excuse to harass and control minorities.

      September 15, 2011 at 12:38 pm |
  11. Samuel8614

    I'm appalled by the stupidity in many of these post. First off... I'm not a Christian or Muslim... This country was founded with freedom of religion as a key pillar. I don't see why the state is bothering the Amish. I think if you have a certain total square footage or etc of reflective material then they should be ok. We see too many driveways with those damn triangles so many people ignore them anyway thinking its a driveway marker... I saw a post stating if we bend the rules for them then we will have to for muslims regarding sharia law... well the amish dont want to beat a woman or cut someone's head off... thats a far fetched statement... Just leave these simple people alone... yes our tax dollars pave the roads and etc... they aren't hurting it... if you wanna gripe about tax dollars and etc... go to your congressman and gripe about the atrocious amounts of money they flush down the $h1tter... as a veteran and an american i'm ashamed of many of you...

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

      AMEN!

      September 15, 2011 at 12:07 pm |
    • Thor

      Use of the triangle makes sure that there is enough to see from a given distance. That's all it does. If these brain surgeon Amish want to get on the road without it, they have to understand the risk of getting hit by a tired trucker barrelling down the road who was too tired to see it. Truckers and SOME other long distance drivers have been conditioned to recognize certain things that alert them up and cause the adrenaline to pump a little harder. Of course, running over the poor innocent Amish buggies is the option. I believe however, there comes a time when WE the real government, have decided that there are things that are pretty good to have around.... one being traffic signals and warnings. Isn't it nice to know that trucks carrying radioactive material are required to have a placard stating that? Hmmmm...... but, of course, we don't want ANY "government" influence, do we?

      September 15, 2011 at 12:14 pm |
    • boogietime

      How many stupid cyclists have orange triangles?

      September 15, 2011 at 12:18 pm |
    • MarkinFL

      If their behavior did not increase the risk of other drivers your argument would be perfect. But these rules are there to protect everyone else on the road. Their religion does not trump another person's safety.

      September 15, 2011 at 12:35 pm |
  12. CrazyPete

    Does not the use of the road violate their beliefs? After all, it is a work of advanced technology (from the chemicals used in the asphalt to the machinery used to lay the road) no different from a car or telephone.

    September 15, 2011 at 11:57 am |
    • Thor

      ....yep... shun the road, shun the cart, ......

      September 15, 2011 at 12:02 pm |
  13. GiveMeABreak

    then shun our roads.

    September 15, 2011 at 11:57 am |
  14. AmshNextDoor

    God doesn't give them life so they can not live....geez. They are so stupid as to think an orange (triangle) symbol is actually something to do with them...get over yourselves. It's not like a "Jesus on board" sign.

    September 15, 2011 at 11:56 am |
  15. Dave Mathers

    Brilliant use of the judicial system. I guess Kentucky must be one of the 'have' states with lots of spare money to put 'dangerous felons' in prison. How did we ever survive before these marvellous orange triangles? Overlegislation run amok.

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

      Not everyone did survive. Some hit dark buggies on the road and died. Of course many people did survive, but then we survived as a species fine without cars, computers, vaccines, hospitals, etc. If you don't like civilization go up to Canada. Lots of crown land up there, the government will never bother you again.

      September 15, 2011 at 12:00 pm |
  16. hank

    this is about safety, you can't see a dark buggie on a dark road

    September 15, 2011 at 11:56 am |
  17. Zakk from Corbelone

    So how is it they are allowed to use the paved roads, which use some pretty high engineering technology to be so stable and durable? Oh, that's right. More religious cherry picking...

    September 15, 2011 at 11:55 am |
    • Bill

      Paved roads existed in Roman times, although they used a different construction method.

      September 15, 2011 at 12:07 pm |
  18. commonSense

    Part of their claim is that the law is being selectively applied against them. i ask the question: are bicyclists being required to use the triangles? If not, then why? They also represent a slow-moving traffic impediment and hazard.

    September 15, 2011 at 11:54 am |
    • Matilda

      Perhaps because a bicycle doesn't occupy an entire lane of traffic?

      September 15, 2011 at 12:00 pm |
    • Thor

      ....and bicycles have this technology called reflectors!

      September 15, 2011 at 12:04 pm |
    • Bubba Gump

      Bicyclist are covered under different sections of law, many states and municipalities require at a minimum a reflector on both wheels, a front and a rear reflector. That is why you will never see bikes sold without them. There are just too many places that do require them so they are always put on.

      Many states and municipalites have further requirements for bicyclist for not only lighting but also helmet laws.

      September 15, 2011 at 12:06 pm |
  19. Chris

    Just another story about religious people that want more freedom then the rest of us...

    September 15, 2011 at 11:53 am |
  20. YesThatsNice

    Test

    September 15, 2011 at 11:49 am |
    • William Demuth

      Fail

      September 15, 2011 at 11:56 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.