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. herbert juarez

    clip-clop, clip-clop, clip-clop,BANG clip- clop, Clip-clop.... you have just witnessed an Amish drive by shooting.

    September 15, 2011 at 9:28 pm |
  2. Jim

    At least their religion doesn't require them to drive on the wrong side of the road.

    September 15, 2011 at 9:25 pm |
  3. lol

    If its just an issue with the triangle – Put two on – two triangles make a square – Problem solved

    September 15, 2011 at 9:13 pm |
  4. Richard Latker

    Yes, the law applies to all. But a little flexibility is obviously in order. The Amish men were willing to use reflective tape on their buggies, yet were compelled to endure the humiliation of a jail sentence because government was not responsive enough to make a simple, harmless accommodation for their sincere and legitimate religious beliefs.

    The Amish are a rare and precious branch of humanity deserving of protection and a little special consideration. That they can prosper in Kentucky speaks well of the state. The State of Kentucky needs to make amends, apologise to these men, and amend the law in accordance with common sense.

    September 15, 2011 at 8:14 pm |
    • Peace

      Well said, the Best POST!!!!!

      September 15, 2011 at 8:24 pm |
    • Matilda

      “A rare and precious branch of humanity?” You make it sound like they are some kind of endangered tree frog.

      September 16, 2011 at 10:57 am |
  5. papalamepimelos

    Amish ninjas can't allow any device that interferes with their ability to magically appear.... and vanish!

    Amish ninja, vanish!

    September 15, 2011 at 7:52 pm |
    • There is no hope of enlightening those blinded by religion

      Making your carriage harder to see is a really good way to vanish permanently.

      September 15, 2011 at 8:00 pm |
  6. Katharine

    Why not spell out CAUTION BUGGY in reflective tape? That would be even more visible than the triangle. Why is this an issue? Why is time and money being wasted? Laws are only useful if they are applied wisely.

    September 15, 2011 at 7:49 pm |
    • Hypothetically Speaking

      Well, the orange triangle is a standardized sign that is in effect in all 50 states to designate a slow moving vehicle. All drivers are supposed to know what it means (apparently most here either do not have their drivers licenses yet, or did not bother to remember the rules). To remove it and replace it with something like what you suggest would not give an immediate identification to drivers not from Amish areas. Indeed, what you suggest would appear to be a roadside sign, which would not make them slow down.

      There are already a LOT of Amish buggy crashes – no joke. Why make them more probable?

      September 15, 2011 at 9:39 pm |
  7. Pig_Diddee

    If these were muslim men following a muslim mandate, this would not even be an issue because the government fears or is league with the muslim faith.

    September 15, 2011 at 7:46 pm |
  8. Anton LaVey

    Amish clearly do the work of the devil.

    September 15, 2011 at 7:14 pm |
    • Chris Turner

      I'd say they clearly do the work of the Amish.

      September 15, 2011 at 7:53 pm |
  9. *frank*

    Are there any Amish in Compton? That'd be a trip.

    September 15, 2011 at 7:08 pm |
    • Going, Going, Gonzo

      Jesus, frank, do you have your head in the sand or something? Have you really not heard the many, many news stories on the Hell's Amish who have been terrorizing Compton? The Hell's Amish have been in many an ugly rumble with rival gangs such as the FondlePriests and the Rabbis of Anarchy.

      They have been wreaking havoc on a number of places, from Klanland Mississippi to Moosepimple Canada, terrorizing the locals by raising below-code barns in town centers, and drag racing their buggies down Main Street. It's an ugly business, and we all have learned to fear the rumble of a herd of Hell's Amish buggies blazing down the streets of Compton at almost double-digit speeds.

      The Bloods and Crips have been wiped out by this dark and vicious new menace, having been annihilated by laughing their butts into a fatal stupor.

      When will the evil be lifted from the good town of Compton?

      September 15, 2011 at 7:54 pm |
    • Really Big Squirrels Don't End Up in Pies

      I saw one mean Amish thumb his nose at a teacher too. Them Amish is one bru-tal bunch.

      September 15, 2011 at 8:00 pm |
  10. *frank*

    In Soviet Swartzentruberville, buggy wrecks YOU!

    September 15, 2011 at 6:32 pm |
  11. Robert

    They liive in a country, they must obey that country's laws.What if my religion forbids me to drive on the right lane?

    September 15, 2011 at 6:31 pm |
    • Chris Turner

      Amen, amen I say unto you: He that drives on the left side of the road, hath everlasting life.
      Vehicolous 6:47

      September 15, 2011 at 8:03 pm |
    • Richard Latker

      This is a fallacious argument. Your religion does not forbid you to drive in the right lane. The Amish are real people, their beliefs are sincere and Kentucky is their home. They deserve a little accommodation from their own government. This isn't comparable to, say, an immigrant community demanding that pork be removed from the school lunch menu for everyone.

      September 15, 2011 at 8:41 pm |
  12. Chris Turner

    Yes, and my religion proclaims that I must walk the streets pure as the heavenly father created me, without such worldy things as clothes..., and my best friend's religion's holy book clearly says that women must be beaten senseless if they miscarry because that means that they have had a sinful liason with the devil...

    You cannot build society around religion if religious freedom is going to be taken seriously, because anyone can make up a religion with whatever rules. One such modern religion is scientology (which, by the way, made its founder very rich).

    September 15, 2011 at 6:20 pm |
  13. derp

    "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."

    Thou shalt not put orange triangles on thy buggies lest ye desire to smolder in eternal damnation.
    Ludicrous 4:17

    September 15, 2011 at 6:07 pm |
    • beeples

      Brilliant, thanks for the laugh.

      September 15, 2011 at 6:43 pm |
    • Chris Turner

      "Thou shalt not put orange triangles on thy buggies lest ye desire to smolder in eternal damnation.
      Ludicrous 4:17"

      I love that Bible passage! 🙂

      September 15, 2011 at 7:56 pm |
  14. Wow

    Just let them do as they wish and if they get run over well.....the problem kind of takes care of itself doesn't it......

    September 15, 2011 at 5:58 pm |
    • Inevitability

      Amish people insisting that their buggies be even less safe: Darwinism continues to work its magic.

      September 15, 2011 at 7:28 pm |
  15. Reflecto

    There is a major brand of black reflective tape available that is DOT approved, black in daylight, and brilliant white at night. If all the state cares about is reflectively, it should fit the bill. If what the state really cares about is power and its ability to bend the population to its will, then no amount of reflective material will suit them.

    September 15, 2011 at 5:07 pm |
    • Peace

      That was a great Post!!!!

      September 15, 2011 at 5:17 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Reflectivity at night is not the sole issue. Buggies are slow-moving vehicles and like all other vehicles that pose a safety hazard for other drivers because they're slow or oversized, they should be required to have warning triangles.

      Obviously, you don't live anywhere near many Amish, or you'd know that.

      September 15, 2011 at 5:39 pm |
    • Reflecto

      I've lived around the Amish all my life. I've never had any trouble spotting the buggies in daytime. They tend to stand out if you are paying any attention at all to the road ahead. The same people who claim they never saw the buggy tend to be the same ones who never saw the train, the semi, or the building that jumped right out in front of them.

      September 15, 2011 at 6:09 pm |
    • Harvey The Rabbit

      That is pretty ignorant and irresponsible, Reflecto. The fact that the buggies go so slowly makes them an immense risk on a roadway, especially at night when the black buggies are very hard to see. The triangle not only reflects but also signifies "slow-moving vehicle." To support this point, and to prove that the state is actually trying to save lives and not "bend the population to its will" can be seen clearly in these accounts of buggy accidents in the link below:


      There are a lot of accidents in a short time, and a whole lot of them are rear-endings. The state is actually protecting their ability to use these vehicles on roadways which they are not really compatible with, not asserting its power in the form of a triangle.

      Here is another website that shows some buggy accident statistics. Notice that collisions with cars, while significant, are not the major source of accidents; the horse is. Also notice that the victims are almost always the Amish.


      One would think that improving safety would be a good idea to the Amish, but no. God wants them to make the buggies less safe.

      September 15, 2011 at 7:15 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      You apparently don't see much, Reflecto, since you missed the entire point of my post. Maybe you'll catch on now that another person has reiterated what I typed.

      Buggies, just like tractors, oversized trailers, and other slow-moving vehicles pose a hazard. Nobody cares whether you have trouble seeing them or not, since you are not the center of the universe and do not represent everyone else.

      September 15, 2011 at 9:50 pm |
  16. David H

    Doesn't this violate the freedom of religion amendment?

    September 15, 2011 at 5:04 pm |
    • Porkulous

      Shutup Boot-Monkey.

      September 15, 2011 at 5:46 pm |
    • Irony

      Don't laws against human sacrifice violate the First Amendment for religions that practice it?

      September 15, 2011 at 7:18 pm |
  17. Cleveland Jim

    Let them be hit by cars. Think about the imbreeding. Think about that kid with cerebral palsy. Child Abuse.

    September 15, 2011 at 4:38 pm |
    • RollingHillz

      You are ignornant.

      September 15, 2011 at 5:00 pm |
    • Reflecto

      Cerebral palsy isn't heritable. You should be thinking about inbreeding, though. It might have improved your spelling, grammar, and general knowledge if you had had some non-simian ancestors.

      September 15, 2011 at 5:14 pm |
  18. Big

    amish should NOT be allowed to drive.

    September 15, 2011 at 4:25 pm |
    • boogietime

      You should not be allowed to post.

      September 15, 2011 at 4:28 pm |
  19. EdgarC

    This law will most likely be overturned at the federal court level - as have other attempts by local jurisdictions to force the Amish to display such symbols. This isn't a new fight; its just this state hasn't quite read the case law to realize this mistake is going to cost the state millions.

    September 15, 2011 at 4:22 pm |
  20. morgan painter

    covering the back of the buggy with tape at least as much reflection as the triangles should be sufficient to make them as visible AS the triangle. In Wis a car dealer who belonged to a church that worshipped on Saturday was allowed an exemption to sell cars on Sunday,which is not allowed in general. Surely the Amish could be granted an exception to use strips or a square with equal amount of square inches of reflection. I think that should be their next step. Anyone who can't distinguish between a reflective triangle and a reflective square should NOT be allowed to drive.

    September 15, 2011 at 4:22 pm |
    • Tim

      I don't know what is more of an affront to liberty, requiring the Amish to use the reflective triangle, or Wisconsin not allowing car sales on Sunday. Why not make it in another shape, perhaps an orange octagon.

      September 15, 2011 at 6:17 pm |
    • shroooom

      Let's make it a double: sell Amish men on Sundays.

      September 15, 2011 at 6:39 pm |
    • Yuck!

      No one would buy any, Shroooomer. I mean, what would anyone do with an uneducated man with very few skills applicable in the modern world, whose skill set can only get minimum wage, and whose religious indoctrination makes him a drag and a bore.

      You could not pay me enough to take one.

      September 15, 2011 at 7:24 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.