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. ScrnName

    Umm... use a square??
    Better yet, turn it sideways & make it a diamond! Those go faster... :\

    Are people (on all sides) really this dense?

    September 15, 2011 at 4:16 pm |
    • Schmukolla

      its a conspiracy. sara palin for mayor!!!!!!

      September 15, 2011 at 4:22 pm |
  2. RightTurnClyde

    The problem being that after riding behind a horse for many years finally you have sniffed one too many breakers and it warps your mind ( a mind is a terrible thing to waste - especially with horse honkers) ... note to that there have long been RNA/Dna problems in those closed groups. (does horse wind affect RNA? I don't know.). Never feed a horse beans (of course) .. but what about saurkraut - Amish are kind of German aren't they? Whew .. a horse who eats saurkraut can clear all the sinuses in Kentucky. Gives a whole new meaning to "Hi-ho Silver ..." .. (who was that masked man? I don't know but I will never forget the horse ..) (Hmmm Kemo Sabe .. truck no see-um .. splatter Kemo Sabe and horse too .. . not good).

    September 15, 2011 at 4:09 pm |
    • Schmukolla

      The Amish are nazis.

      September 15, 2011 at 4:16 pm |
  3. cannedtuna

    There is no one god, or three gods or allah or anything like that. I'm sorry to say but you bible-thumpers really need get back to reality. It boggles my mind that people get so hung up on religious matters...in the grand scheme of things who give a Sh|t? The sooner people around the world stop using Religion as an excuse to act like idiots – take any example, this one, terrorism, etc, the better off the WHOLE world will be. Just saying...

    September 15, 2011 at 4:06 pm |
    • RightTurnClyde

      so what you are saying is if they do not have one God, then they should not have one horse .. there ought to be six horses pulling a stage coach " they can sit high up on the driver's perch and yell to the horses .. "ha.. ha" and crack the bull whip over their heads .. somebody ridin shotgun fer them truckin fools and watching out fer smokies who hand out them tickets..

      September 15, 2011 at 4:15 pm |
    • cannedtuna

      i want what this guy is smokin...

      September 15, 2011 at 4:50 pm |
  4. Carl

    Well, my religious beliefs forbid the use of seat belts, car seats for children, windshield wipers, headlights, and brakes. Yet I have rights darn it! I have the right to use the roads I wish to use and put any manner of vehicular on that road regardless of the lack of safety features and regardless of the dangers to others around me. Because that is what he bible says to do – disobey all laws and so as you see fit regardless of how it impacts others.

    September 15, 2011 at 3:57 pm |
    • akmed the terrorist

      allah will flatulate on you.

      September 15, 2011 at 3:58 pm |
    • Bill in Sarajevo

      it's all due to Obama Care. This is too much!!!

      September 15, 2011 at 3:59 pm |
    • Why?

      A woman puts her 8 month old son and 2 year old into a bathtub and turns on the water. She then leaves her children, goes and eats a bowl of cereal and takes a nap, while her 8 month old drowns in the tub. She hasn't spent a single night in jail and charges, according to the prosecuting attorney, are unlikely. WHY ARE THESE MEN IN JAIL AGAIN? Because they won't wear a triangle on their buggy? They have lights and reflectors. What is wrong with our country?!

      September 15, 2011 at 4:07 pm |
    • Schmukolla

      different jurisdictions. anyway, there idiotss want to go to jail. it's only a fine, but they want to serve a sentence. ffuukk them then

      September 15, 2011 at 4:20 pm |
  5. falafel

    fuuuuukkk them

    September 15, 2011 at 3:56 pm |
  6. falafel

    the amish are a bunch of perverts. They marry little kids and have a dozen wives.

    September 15, 2011 at 3:54 pm |
    • JAD

      The Amish are a peaceful, respectul and very old community. They have ONE wife and I don't believe they marry small children. I think your rude comments are directed to the Mormons- but they are incorrect in that matter as well.

      September 15, 2011 at 4:14 pm |
    • Schmukolla

      why you think its rude. Mormons and amish can KMA-bunch of perverts!!!!!

      September 15, 2011 at 4:19 pm |
    • pasta

      That is the muslims

      September 15, 2011 at 5:21 pm |
  7. Simon C

    They are hypocrites: To be consistent, they should not use roads made with petroleum materials and engine driven machines.

    September 15, 2011 at 3:22 pm |
    • Anton LaVey

      No kidding...they dont want attention but yet ride in buggies that stand out. They are a self centered religious group that seeks to isolate itself. They do a disservice to their country and their god.

      September 15, 2011 at 3:25 pm |
    • morgan painter

      They HAVE to use the roads because there are fences and obstructions everywhere else.
      Do you advocate they should drive on peoples lawns?

      Get real. Your comment exposes a hatred for people different then yourself.

      September 15, 2011 at 3:49 pm |

      they should walk. KMA you darned Irish!

      September 15, 2011 at 3:57 pm |
    • RightTurnClyde

      What they should do it to get a really good skate board and tie behind he horse and then the horse can run along the side of the road and they can jump all the curbs and do wheelies and even skateboard down banisters and stairways. They can leave horse calling cards where ever they go with the horse. They could wear black flip-flops and bushy-bushy dark hair dos. They can take monikers like "Doheny Jake" or "Swami Beach Abe"

      September 15, 2011 at 3:59 pm |
    • Mendave

      Now that would be to inconvenient for them. If they aren't supposed to depend on worldly goods why don't they run around naked and use rocks as tools. I've seen those barns. They weren't put up with rocks.

      September 15, 2011 at 4:34 pm |
  8. johnjohn

    I am all for protection of religious beliefs, but when that belief jeopardizes the safety of the family, it is time to change.
    how can you value your feelings about putting a triangle on a buggy more that the life of your wife and child? is this what the bible teaches you? clearly you need to do some more reading!
    Either comply for your safety and the safety of others, or get off the roads.
    It is that simple

    September 15, 2011 at 3:18 pm |
    • morgan painter

      They have already agreed to use reflective tape, it is only the triangle they are opposed to.

      September 15, 2011 at 3:51 pm |
    • JAD

      In their minds, they trust in God to keep them safe. You could argue that to them, that is the greatest protection that could be offered. I'm not saying it is correct- tape and signs are definitely a plus- but it is understandable.

      September 15, 2011 at 4:16 pm |
  9. hippypoet

    the problem is not that we are hitting and killing amish, its the people who are driving too fast to see the next 10 feet... its a rural street... most likely and most often widey roads with hills and lacking lights where people could really use one... so slow down!!!!! its no suprise that people are dieing with the way folks drive today– texting – nothing like a bright screen and words to read 2 inches from your face when theres a turn coming up and your going 50.. and i don't care about the speed limit – you drive safe, with caution, and respect to the condition and area you are in...a.k.a. when driving thru my niehbor hood at 3 in the morning, expect to have a spike strip flatten your tires if you drive too fast and with music blasting!!! its all a matter of respect and intelligence, some people were raised to be @ssholes.

    September 15, 2011 at 2:40 pm |
  10. expatriot

    Nobody says a word when a Muslim woman wants her face covered with a burqa on a drivers license, but somehow those pesky Amish must comply with the triangle and have their Christian beliefs ignored as if they ever bothered anybody. I really feel depressed of what is becoming of America.

    September 15, 2011 at 2:36 pm |
    • honesty

      "nobody says a word", really? Really? No one at all wrote any articles or voiced and comment or complaint about this practice? Get a grip.

      September 15, 2011 at 3:46 pm |
  11. Balto Paul

    Get a faster buggy. Problem solved.

    September 15, 2011 at 2:25 pm |
  12. David, CA

    This may sound callous, but one horrific traffic accident will fix this ignorance.

    September 15, 2011 at 2:06 pm |
    • Matilda

      There have been plenty. Talk to first responders in Amish country. Those buggies are like coffins on wheels.

      September 15, 2011 at 2:10 pm |
    • rich

      Yes, it's very dangerous driving around NW Indiana–the countryside is very dark and then all of a sudden there's a slow-moving, poorly-lit buggy in front of you!

      I respect their traditions but they put their family's lives at stake. on those roads.

      September 15, 2011 at 2:27 pm |
  13. Sun

    We love you Amish, you are the most kindest, nicest people ever on Planet Earth!

    It is a travesty that you had to go to jail, but we hope that these earthlings see sense and work out an amicable alternative safety solution.

    Love you!!!!

    September 15, 2011 at 2:02 pm |
    • David, CA

      apparently you've never read about child abuses in the Amish community. It's pretty widespread and hair raising.

      September 15, 2011 at 2:07 pm |
    • William Demuth


      "These Earthlings"

      Let me guess, you aren't?

      September 15, 2011 at 2:10 pm |
    • Sun

      oh yeah these earthlings like silly willy will see sense one day and stop harassing some of the best people on this Planet Earth.

      Love you much Amish!!!!

      September 15, 2011 at 2:37 pm |
    • Lexxvs

      From time to time those delusional religious groups need to sober up and realize that whether they like it or not they live into a larger society and they are bound to the same rules and face certain responsibilities. Don’t like it? Do as some groups alike and go live in the middle of the jungle in Bolivia. But hey, down there there are other problems to face. Gosh, must be difficult trying to be oblivious from reality.

      September 15, 2011 at 3:06 pm |
  14. papalamepimelos

    Well, if they don't want to apply those worldly reflective safety triangles to their transportation vehicles, perhaps they should refrain from using those worldly asphalt roads with worldly yellow stripes and worldly traffic rules.

    Problem solved. Unless....

    If this is not really a case of reflective triangles, but a case of people trying to put themselves above the law and seeing if they can get away with it. If they will get away with it, expect much more of this putting themselves above the law in the future.

    Religious zealots. Gotta love them....

    September 15, 2011 at 2:01 pm |
  15. Rhea

    Everyone seems to be missing the point. This whole problem came up in New York too. It was decided by the elders and the state government. They are complying with the law in the fact that they use red lights on both sides of their buggies and white lights on the front. They also outline the back of the buggies with white highly reflective tape, even more so than the orange triangles. This sect of Amish does not believe in drawing attention to one's self. They do not wear bright colored clothing, their houses are simple and their buggies are simple. As for keeping themselves separate from the world, that is wrong. They are some of the most wonderful people you could ask for. Stick your thumb out when one of those buggies goes by, I will bet it stops to see if you need a ride!

    September 15, 2011 at 1:59 pm |
    • Ben

      "This sect of Amish does not believe in drawing attention to one's self."

      ...but they just did.

      September 15, 2011 at 2:30 pm |
    • boogietime

      Actually, CNN did.

      September 15, 2011 at 4:27 pm |
    • Mendave

      No thanks. I drive a car.

      September 15, 2011 at 4:27 pm |
  16. Truth pointer

    To be honest, a horse and buggy with a triangle is a horrendous site. Just putting on a big rectangular reflector should do the trick with more reflective tape. After all, cars don't carry triangles either when they drive slow. Triangle are for still standing traffic. However Amish should not be using the road at all with their horses. They should make their own horseways. Horses can freak out sometime and endanger motorised traffic.

    September 15, 2011 at 1:53 pm |
    • Matilda

      Why is a triangle more horrendous than a rectangle? And who is going to rewrite the law on exactly how many square inches of tape is required? Cars don’t’ carry triangles because they have stuff like bumpers and brake lights. Triangles are not for still standing traffic. They are for slow moving traffic. They should make their own horse ways on who’s land? Horses do freak out. So do a lot of drivers.

      September 15, 2011 at 2:02 pm |
  17. Tea Party Express

    Doesn't the bible talk about obeying the laws of the land even if they don't jive with your own personal laws?

    The only thing Jesus was wrong about was he told us to pay taxes. He must have made too much wine for himself that day.

    September 15, 2011 at 1:45 pm |
    • Ian

      So in Nazi Germany you would have obeyed Hitler's laws?

      September 15, 2011 at 1:49 pm |
    • Truth pointer

      Just use a car, is it so bad?

      September 15, 2011 at 1:54 pm |
    • William Demuth


      They did in George Bush's New Anerica

      Torture, illegal searches, imprisonment without charge, and a whole slew of immoral acts including the invasion of Iraq and the killing of 400,000 people.

      September 15, 2011 at 2:13 pm |
  18. DamnAmish

    Those damn Amish are at it again. What a problem they've become. [ this is a joke. Stated for you dimwitted folk. ]

    September 15, 2011 at 1:45 pm |
  19. Elizabeth

    Ah, religion. The pinnacle of rational thought and common sense.

    September 15, 2011 at 1:45 pm |
  20. Mark G.

    If they use taxpayer funded roads, they have to comply. Otherwise, they should build their own roads and use them if they want to avoid this. Perhaps they are unaware of the danger they are in. I have heard of these horse and buggies being hit from behind and people killed. Perhaps they also do not understand the speeds of cars and that motorists need warning. This is also for the protection of the motoring public.

    September 15, 2011 at 1:34 pm |
    • JohnR

      If they were only risking their own safety, I'd be on the side of the Amish. But they aren't. As you note, they are creating dangerous conditions for others as well. They must comply.

      September 15, 2011 at 1:38 pm |
    • boogietime

      I say once the people on bicycles comply, then go after the Amish.

      September 15, 2011 at 2:19 pm |
    • Bloodyviking

      If this is like many of the other Amish enclaves, they probably Did build at least some of those roads before the State came in and paved them.

      September 15, 2011 at 6:19 pm |
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About this blog

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.