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. apolitical

    Wall St was given immunity and a free pass to steal trillions while the Amish go to jail for failure to put a sign on teir horse and buggy. I think we know which group is the terrorist and holds sway.

    September 15, 2011 at 1:30 pm |
  2. JD

    Do you really believe that a nation that gives it's blessing on millions of babys being aborted, is concerned about the safely of individuals?

    September 15, 2011 at 1:19 pm |
    • William Demuth


      Do you believe a religion that condemns abortion and ALSO condemms birth control is rational?

      Do you believe a religion that condemns abortion and ALSO guts early education programs cares about kids?

      September 15, 2011 at 1:27 pm |
    • JD


      I have no clue if they condem birth control but that and abortion are to totally different things. As far as education I guess every child has the option to pursue that whenever they want

      September 15, 2011 at 2:00 pm |
    • JD


      One more thing its laughable that you think its only this group who is not giving kids the education they need. Thank god I was born into a sucessful family with a dad that taught me more about business than my schooling ever did.

      September 15, 2011 at 2:13 pm |
    • tallulah13

      JD: Babies are not being aborted. Most of what is being aborted are simply clusters of cells. Sometimes a fetus that cannot live outside of the woman's body is aborted.

      A woman who finds herself pregnant is the best judge of what she can handle, of what is going on in her life. If you don't wish to have an abortion, don't have one. But it is not your place to tell another woman what to do with her own body.

      September 17, 2011 at 12:47 am |
  3. Lynda

    Tax dollars are lost because these people don't want to use the triangle for safety sake on our roads, therefore, don't let them drive on our roads. The triangle saves their lives, helps drivers realize they are driving slow. So, if that means they must walk to wherever they wish to go, because they don't want to follow the rules of the roads, that's fine with me. No signs, then Stay off our roads with your buggies.

    September 15, 2011 at 1:18 pm |
  4. Reg

    They preferred to serve the jail sentences over paying fines, because after succesfully suing the government for violating their religious freedoms, they can claim huge sums of money for unlawful imprisonment. These guys are real capitalists. If they had paid fines, they could only get them refunded at most, but compensation for being in jail is a much bigger profit. There you have it, churchleaders are business men hiding under the pretext of religion.

    September 15, 2011 at 1:10 pm |
    • Truth pointer

      Don't forget the free food and room service.

      September 15, 2011 at 1:12 pm |
  5. Jim

    I actually believe that they are hypocrites and are just using their religion as an excuse to get in the news. Draws more attention to them and might even get a few new crazy members to their church. They know about technology and how it is used by the media to report ridiculous stories like this. More importantly they know how the media swarms like flies whenever the word "discrimination" is used.


    September 15, 2011 at 1:05 pm |
  6. Jim

    So how do those Amish feel about no passing zone signs? They are triangle so I suppose they won't care if people use those around them or not. Do they just ignore yield signs? They are triangle too!

    September 15, 2011 at 1:00 pm |
  7. Anton LaVey

    What is interesting is they stand out with the buggies more than anything on the road. Pride in their Ordnung perhaps?
    Also, what are doing to spread the good word of their jesus? They believe in seperation from the outside world. So now we have pride and selfishness. While they are peaceful they do nothing for their god and jesus and are dead spiritually. The only purpose they serve is to their selfish selves.

    September 15, 2011 at 12:57 pm |
    • Anon

      You obviously have never met anyone from the Amish community. They are the MOST unselfish, MOST giving, MOST forgiving people you will ever meet. These are the people who when a madman entered one of their schools and killed their children, they didn't cry for revenge, or for justice. They EMBRACED his family, forgave him and his family, and asked God to care for their children until they meet them again. Let's see how YOU act in the face of such horrible crimes and situations.

      September 15, 2011 at 1:50 pm |
    • Anton LaVey


      You obviously have never met anyone from the Amish community. They are the MOST unselfish, MOST giving, MOST forgiving people you will ever meet. These are the people who when a madman entered one of their schools and killed their children, they didn't cry for revenge, or for justice. They EMBRACED his family, forgave him and his family, and asked God to care for their children until they meet them again. Let's see how YOU act in the face of such horrible crimes and situations.

      First read back over what I posted and points and think about it.
      Secondly, I am not impressed with their god....FAIL when it came to their children.
      Thirdly, Amish are freeloading on the sacrifices of others. I have no use for them and if the day comes our soil is attacked, I will use their bodies as sandbags.

      September 15, 2011 at 3:17 pm |
    • Anton LaVey

      Simply put they are useless as US citizens and useless as christians. They are selfish...being their focus in on themselves. If the apostles had acted as they do, there would be no gospels...lol

      September 15, 2011 at 3:20 pm |
  8. Laura

    All slow moving vehicles on the road require bright orange traffic triangles, including slow moving farm vehicles. Not just Amish carriages. Sometimes a triangle is just a triangle and nothing more. I see no religious discrimination here. If they want to use the roads, they can follow the rules just like anyone else. If they don't like it, they can get off the road or walk.

    September 15, 2011 at 12:56 pm |
  9. hippypoet

    oh man, we'er gunna get munsoned out here!

    September 15, 2011 at 12:55 pm |
    • face

      I lol'd. Didn't know you had a monkey.

      September 15, 2011 at 1:15 pm |
  10. RightTurnClyde

    Well, I don't care if it rains or freezes,
    Long as I have my plastic Jesus
    Riding on the dashboard of my car
    I could go a hundred miles and hour
    Long as I got the Almighty Power
    Glued up there with my fuzzy dice

    Plastic Jesus, plastic Jesus
    Riding on the dashboard of my car
    Through all trials and tribulations,
    We will travel every nation,
    With my plastic Jesus I'll go far.

    September 15, 2011 at 12:53 pm |
    • NOo..oON

      So true...
      Nuthin pleases like a plasitc Jesus

      September 15, 2011 at 12:56 pm |
  11. Cedar Rapids

    So if they dont like triangles how on earth do they put up their barns?

    September 15, 2011 at 12:47 pm |
  12. Jose

    Thank you John Via for being the voice! Wish you the very best!!!

    September 15, 2011 at 12:46 pm |
  13. a42natson

    People with standards...how quaint.

    September 15, 2011 at 12:44 pm |
    • MarkinFL

      The DOT is quaint?

      September 15, 2011 at 12:46 pm |
    • RightTurnClyde

      The government has an entire Bureau of Standards. How else would you know what an ounce is? Or a mile. .. and if you say it is 5280 feet then you need to define a foot. .. it is not easy.

      September 15, 2011 at 12:50 pm |
    • Matilda

      Yeah, those Amish folk who DO glorify triangles to avoid becoming road kill are so unscrupulous.

      September 15, 2011 at 12:50 pm |
  14. RightTurnClyde

    We do not have absolute rights related to road usage. Your license can be revoked. You are prohibited from some kinds of driving (speeding, land changes, too slow - even in a car, texting, DUI. And so there is right to do prohibited things under the guise of practicing religion. (taking drugs fore example ... or flying planes into buildings). Whatever it means to be Amish they can be prohibited from using the road in a buggy. (nothing more itchy than a horse with a buggy behind)

    September 15, 2011 at 12:43 pm |
  15. Judy Callihan

    This is a matter of obeying the law. God says obey the law.

    September 15, 2011 at 12:41 pm |
    • Jim

      Do you mean that some people say that there is a god that says to obey the law?

      September 15, 2011 at 12:43 pm |
    • xapns

      Jim, the Bible states "give to Caesar what is Caesar's.." if you can't obey the law how can you obey God.

      September 15, 2011 at 1:10 pm |
    • claybigsby

      "Jim, the Bible states"

      stop right there....who cares what the bible states...it has no bearing on the laws of this land.

      September 15, 2011 at 1:31 pm |
  16. Mick

    I don't believe in the Trinity either. It's an awkward, ill-defined concept (do those guys have one god or three?) which doesn't come from the Bible. But I'd sure as hell slap a triangle on my car if required for safety purposes. Sometimes a triangle is just a triangle.

    September 15, 2011 at 12:32 pm |
    • Jim

      I know right? Lines that intersect to make shapes have existed well before people have.

      September 15, 2011 at 12:45 pm |
  17. dike

    Can they put a orange reflective skull instead?

    September 15, 2011 at 12:23 pm |
    • RightTurnClyde

      It is actually suicidal today. Was bd in the 1940's but now the cars are so fast and the roads are made for fast cars. (and enormous trucks)

      September 15, 2011 at 12:46 pm |
  18. boogietime

    So do these Kentucky Fried Cops arrest cyclists who do not have an orange triangle?

    September 15, 2011 at 12:22 pm |
    • Matilda

      If the bicycle is 6 feet wide and pulled by a thousand pound animal, my guess is YES!

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

      I see, so only Amish people need slow vehicle signs. The government then needs to be sued for discrimination on religious grounds.

      September 15, 2011 at 12:31 pm |
    • Mick

      Boogietime, how is that religious discrimination? If any of those Amish ditched their buggy and hit the road in a normal car, no one would ask them to use the triangle.

      September 15, 2011 at 12:35 pm |
    • Matilda

      Apples and oranges.

      September 15, 2011 at 12:36 pm |
    • Jim

      There are different regulations for bikes smartbutt. In addition, all slow moving vehicles need this.

      September 15, 2011 at 12:42 pm |
    • Nonimus

      It depends on the state laws in KY, but in other states farm tractors, combines, etc. are also required to display orange triangles.

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

      So a bicycle is not s slow-moving vehicle??? The fact that it does not take up the entire width of the lane is irrelevant. It takes up enough of it that a car has to slow down and use extreme caution going around it. Bikes do have reflectors, but so what? The Amish had reflective tape, but that wasn't good enough for the government.

      September 15, 2011 at 1:14 pm |
  19. danny

    Sounds like some democrat in county politics decided to punish the Amish and pushed some laws trough with some added regulations aimed at a specific religious group.

    September 15, 2011 at 12:21 pm |
    • MarkinFL

      What a pathetically lame attempt to drag politics into this. Try harder next time.

      September 15, 2011 at 12:31 pm |
    • Sean

      Yea right.. and the ban on shark fin isn’t to help protect sharks but to punish the Chinese. …moron.

      September 15, 2011 at 12:50 pm |
  20. Tea Party Express

    My One True God does say jack squat about orange triangles, go get a life Neck-Beards.

    September 15, 2011 at 12:20 pm |
    • Draeggo

      YOUR one true God? What about OUR one true God or are you the only one that matters?

      September 15, 2011 at 1:35 pm |
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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.