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. John


    September 16, 2011 at 9:40 pm |
  2. RightTurnClyde

    Tooling down the hightway doing 79
    I'm a twin pipe papa and I'm feelin fine
    Hey man dig that was that a red stop sign
    (Scrreeech-BANG, tinkle)

    Transfusion, transfusion
    I'm just a solid mess of contusions
    Never, never, never gonna speed again
    Slip the blood to me, Bud

    I jump in my rod about a quarter to nine
    I gotta make a date with that chick of mine
    I cross the center line man you gotta make time-
    (Scrreeech-BANG, tinkle)

    Transfusion, transfusion
    Oh, man, I got the cotton pickin convolutions
    Never, never, never gonna speed again
    Shoot the juice to me, Bruce

    My foot's on the throttle and it's made of lead
    But I'm a fast ridding daddy with a real cool head
    I'ma gonna pass a truck on the hill ahead-
    (Scrreeech-BANG, tinkle)
    Transfusion, transfusion
    My red corpsuckles (sic) are in mass confusion
    Never, never, never gonna speed again
    Pass the crimson to me, Jimson

    I took a little drink and I'm feelin right
    I can fly right over everything everything in sight
    There's a slow poking cat I'm gonna pass him on the right
    (Scrreeech-BANG, tinkle)

    Transfusion, transfusion
    I'm a real gone paleface and that's no illusion
    I'ma never never never gonna speed again
    Pass the claret to me, Barrett

    September 16, 2011 at 9:14 pm |
  3. Dee

    And this is supposed to be a free country! Jail time, seriously?!

    September 16, 2011 at 8:17 pm |
    • AGuest9

      When you are found to be in the wrong in a court of law, and the options given are a fine or jail time, you are led away in handcuffs if you refuse to/cannot pay the fine.

      September 18, 2011 at 7:32 pm |
  4. Sun

    What is wrong with the reflective tape again, not loud enough? and people are sent to jail for this?

    That is ridiculous.

    The article very clearly states that the Amish, and to quote Via

    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.

    If you have a problem with this then you are either drunk or not paying attention while driving.

    September 16, 2011 at 4:35 pm |
  5. Roger

    Government and Religion should stay separate. This is the only way all the various religions and sub sects can co-occupy this country. To that end, there should never be exclusions to any law given for religious reasons. Your religion should stay in your home and on your property. If you venture into public domain, you must obey the public laws, regardless of your personal religious beliefs, period.

    September 16, 2011 at 4:07 pm |
    • Dee

      I hope you feel this way when all the red tape and bureaucracy infringes on your freedoms. You know that so many 'laws' are being made that just wind everything up tighter and tighter until people are pretty much not allowed to do anything. Your philosophy is similar to what allowed Hitler to thrive. "Just follow the leader and don't use critical thinking."

      September 16, 2011 at 8:19 pm |
    • RightTurnClyde

      @Dee well truly wish other American DID care about government transgressions ... but they do not. Half of the Bill of Rights have been trashed (they say the Mexican pledge of allegiance and the Mexican national anthem all over Caliifornia and Nevada and raise the Mexican over buildings and shout "Vive Mehico" at public rallys .. red light cameras, speed trap cameras (a radar and a camera), eavesdropping on cell phones.. . Your rights are at great risk .. and nobody cars.

      September 16, 2011 at 9:36 pm |
  6. northshoresurfdog

    I think all pedestrians should be required to place glowing triangles on their rear ends, and so should bicycle riders, oh and how about them pesky skateboarders, they should definietley have to place a triangle on their skateboards, and those moms pushing baby strollers, they should have reflective triangles on their rear ends, their baby's rear ends, and their strollers!

    September 16, 2011 at 2:28 pm |
  7. DJSmith

    What does Religion have to do with this issue? No one should have to display anything on their vehicles if they so choose not to.....however........if they choose not to bring their vehicles in compliance with the laws of the roads, to which they are traveling then they must suffer the same penalties as any other vehicle not in comnpliance or stay off the roadways completely. ie non-working lights, no inspection, no license...etc. They laws were made and should be enforced to provide safety to all who travel them. There are such things as "off-road" vehicles and the operators of these face stiff fines if they are caught on public roads,,, why should the "Amish" or any other sect (religious or not) be any different... In addition, why is it that they do not have to remove their horses "waste" from the side of the roads that they travel. It is unhealty disgusting LITTER and they should be made to clean it up!

    September 16, 2011 at 2:24 pm |
  8. chris

    and why not let them use another reflective device, e.g. a rectangle? And instead of a bright but passive color, integrate some actively blinking light with a certain lumen/brightness. Something that is even more safe so that nobody can complain.

    September 16, 2011 at 12:55 pm |
  9. ColoredMountains

    CNN, is this a news? In other parts of the globe, people get imprisoned and killed because of the faith. America has not changed after 9/11. Their popular movies, books, music, shows and at-ti-tudes after 9/11all tell Americans have not repented. Con-ser-vative Christian Americans are the only ones who can change the woeful direction of the nation, but regular Americans mock them.

    September 16, 2011 at 11:30 am |
    • CSCI132

      Let them rot in jail. I have been through many areas over the years where I see Amish using their buggies on public roads and always do they have the safety devices, some even with blinkers attached. These guys are just t erds who need soem jail time to set them straight.

      September 16, 2011 at 12:26 pm |
    • ColoredMountains

      American prisons are luxury hotels comparing to other prisons. This news is a joke, not a news.

      September 16, 2011 at 12:46 pm |
    • AGuest9

      Mathilda, please take your meds.

      September 19, 2011 at 9:36 am |
  10. antgma

    I dont see why they need the triangle if they have an appropriate # of lanterns. I live in PA and they seem to always be out during blinding snowstorms and several times i almost clipped a buggy because i didnt see it until i was right up on it. I wouldnt even be out in that weather, but i need to get to work too. If the law really wants to make things safe then they should forget the triangles and instead make many lanterns the law between dusk and dawn.

    September 16, 2011 at 6:48 am |
  11. W. Heitinga

    @Wabo Ways, September 15, 2011 at 11:39 pm
    If you check the pictures you can clearly the orange sign on the rear of the buggy.
    How does the number of incidents with Amish buggies compare to other slow movers accidents? Without the numbers this is a silly emo-discussion. The reflective tape is likely to be better than the triangle.

    September 16, 2011 at 4:49 am |
  12. 29tomt

    I think this is a safety issue. It is okay if these people want to risk their own lives. The freedom seekers who posted before me have made that point. But, because of your beliefs, do you have the right to endanger me and my family is the question. NOT. I could see that buggy at the most inopportune time because it was not marked in a way I am accustomed to seeing those buggies and have to swerve and not only endanger my family but someone coming the other way. Like someone else posted, it is a public road for public use and requires rules that we are all expected to follow for safety and this has nothing to do with some freedom.

    September 16, 2011 at 4:28 am |
    • Mr J&Hyde

      Nice trying to hide behind that facade of yours, it is obvious who you really are and what your agenda really here is.

      Leave the Amish alone!!!!

      September 16, 2011 at 10:25 am |
  13. Cadiz

    I fully agree they should use the triangles if they are going to use public roads. They can avoid fines or jail by not driving their buggies on the road. If you have never come around a curve on a road in low visibility weather and seen one of these dark buggies at the last minute you have no idea how dangerous it can be.

    With that said, I wonder how the government would have reacted if it has been a Muslim refusing to obey such laws due to 'religious beliefs'. Some religions have spoecial consideration.

    September 16, 2011 at 3:48 am |
    • Irfan

      Muslims wouldn't be silly enough not to use the reflecting triangle ....

      September 16, 2011 at 4:01 am |
    • Pointe

      Again, now who flies into buildings?

      September 16, 2011 at 11:49 am |
    • dude

      Pointe ..ofcourse the muslims and the reflective bumper sticker reads i'm proud to be a muslim.

      September 16, 2011 at 11:54 am |
  14. Kirth Gersen

    Their beliefs forbid use of an orange triangle, and people really think, oh, that's OK? Let's see what people say when someone with kids on board slams into an Amish buggy.

    September 16, 2011 at 2:15 am |
  15. ddee


    September 16, 2011 at 1:12 am |
    • Cindy

      I totally agree. If it's the shape of the triangle, let them use a diamond, or another approved shape. I think Amish should have to have reflective tape, obey traffic laws, and register their buggies, just like everyone else. You have to obey the laws for the use of roadways, they are no different.

      September 16, 2011 at 11:32 am |
  16. Momtomany

    What has happened to all our freedoms? Why make a law like having to have triangles on buggies? We have become such a police society that we cannot even allow the Amish to ride along in their buggies how they want? Sure it may be more dangerous to ride without a triangle... But let them take that risk! There are way too many laws!!

    September 15, 2011 at 11:47 pm |
    • Qwerty Elemeno

      The triangle is for all slow-moving vehicles. As a driver, you are supposed to know that.

      September 16, 2011 at 12:23 am |
    • Leo

      Sure, let THEM take that risk. But what happens if you're driving along in inclement weather, with your children in the backseat, and suddenly... AMISH BUGGY. And you slam your brakes, but the road is wet, and you crash into the buggy, go over the guardrail, and your kids die? The horses die, the Amish guy's kids die, your kids die, and you and Amish guy are permanently disabled from your injuries. All because you have a dark vehicle going 5 miles per hour in bad weather on public roads? Is a reflective device worth all that?

      The Amish have the right to not follow the rules of the road... as long as they don't use public roads. There are rules for a reason, and they protect everyone. Your freedoms end where the risk to your neighbor's life and freedom begin.

      September 16, 2011 at 8:25 am |
    • Matilda

      It's not like they're being forced to wear seat belts.

      September 16, 2011 at 11:22 am |
    • AGuest9

      Momtomany – There is freedom, and there are laws. These folks are using state roads, maintained by state tax dollars. Those state roads come with state laws. Any slow-moving/non-motorized vehicle on a state road in many states require a reflective orange triangle on the back of the vehicle to reflect headlights. They are seen on tractors, spreaders, insecticide applicators and hay hoppers, which are slow-moving vehicles that must travel on roads. Why should a driver be charged with involuntary vehicular manslaughter with the possibility of a life in prison because someone's "religious belief" endangers their life and the lives of their family members?

      September 18, 2011 at 7:46 pm |
  17. northshoresurfdog

    Unbeleivable. These are some of the dumbest comments I have read on these blogs. You must be kidding. This is America. The Amish can worship any way they choose. The bigger question, is why does the Kentuckey brain trust waste tax payer dollars encarcerating men for not displaying a stupid triangle on a non-motorized vehicle. Guaranteed, there are meth heads burglarizing a Kentucky home this very minute, and the police are hasseling the most law abiding citizens in the state........brilliant.

    September 15, 2011 at 11:26 pm |
    • Wabo Ways

      Check out the pictures of crashed buggies in the link below, and read the stories. Then see if the dimmest clue of why those triangles are a good idea seeps into your closed mind.


      Do you really think that religious people are entitled to special relaxations of the law that the rest of us are not?

      September 15, 2011 at 11:39 pm |
  18. Kook Vendor

    Bunches of kooks!
    Get em while they're hot!
    Bunches of kooks!

    September 15, 2011 at 10:32 pm |
  19. Roelof

    Why the hell do those Amish protesting against some triangle buggies? It's for their safety and for others. And why do they take "western" paved roads anyway?

    September 15, 2011 at 9:50 pm |
    • Whaaaaa!

      The real question is: How can they possibly believe all that bullshit?

      September 15, 2011 at 10:06 pm |
  20. Hypothetically Speaking

    If a group of geese is called a gaggle and a group of crows is a murder, then what would a group of Amish be? A moron of Amish? Close, but not quite right. A freakshow of Amish? Almost, but not there yet.

    I've got it! A roadkill of Amish!

    "Look honey; there's a roadkill of Amish in that carriage on the freeway!"

    September 15, 2011 at 9:29 pm |
    • Michae l J.

      You're a moron.

      September 16, 2011 at 1:03 am |
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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.