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. But its okay to have website?

    I can sympathize and understand why religious beliefs can be so important. However, I find it difficult to understand the their issue considering that they have numerous websites advertising their products, religion etc?. Doesn't this too violate their religious beliefs? Is this not hypocritical? My daughter made a comment about their very colorful tri-fold pamphlet that was in the tourist information after crossing the border from New York state into Erie Pa. On this pamphlet was a link to their website. She thought this was strange and she was only 13 years old at the time. I too found it contradictory to their rigid beliefs as well...high tech advertising is fine, but no orange triangles? Hmm...whats wrong with that picture?

    January 2, 2012 at 12:55 pm |
  2. handheld game systems

    It’s hard to find knowledgeable individuals on this matter, however you sound like you already know what you’re speaking about! Thanks

    December 24, 2011 at 4:52 am |
  3. trxsuspension

    Hello. everyone.
    would like to make new friends with you guys.

    November 28, 2011 at 3:35 pm |
  4. berry

    Paul F. K.
    Democracy??? In today's day and age I do not think any country has the financial resources for pettiness, as such...I stumbled by accident on a site 2 days ago, a beautiful 2 year old american baby boy was brutally mutilated and murdered by his stepfather and mother,sad ...he didn't get half the attention this petty case is receiving, and not half as many comments...did you leave a comment for him paul???? So much for YOUR democracy...sadly disappointed berry SOUTH AFRICA

    September 22, 2011 at 3:50 am |
  5. Paul F. K.

    Why not compromise and use WHITE SAFETY CIRCLES?

    September 21, 2011 at 4:19 am |
  6. berry

    And the world laughs at stupid American people...feed your hungry, end your wars and save your abused and murdered children...you idiots have time to leave 1207 comments concerning orange triangles...pathetic. LEAVE the Amish and deal with the hard realities... Disgusted berry SOUTH AFRICA

    September 20, 2011 at 8:29 pm |
    • Paul F. K.

      It's called democracy...... good to know that South Africa doesn't seem to have the problems you mentioned; you seem to be in the luxurious position of worrying about orange triangle discussions in the US and judging US citizens for taking part in these.

      September 21, 2011 at 8:50 am |
  7. fritz

    If there's no comment in the COMMENT box, how do they know that my response isn't one of speechlessness?

    September 19, 2011 at 10:30 am |
  8. Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

    I agree hatred, anger and intolerance toward the Amish community is something that I do not support.

    September 18, 2011 at 10:27 pm |
    • Clay

      I know. I mean, I'm not particularly fond of their beliefs, seeing as computers are pretty central in my life and my plans for the future, but I can't stand it when people go out of their way to abuse people. Out law is supposed to objective, but sadly the people that enforce it aren't nearly so...

      September 19, 2011 at 12:52 pm |
  9. Junebug

    Use the flippin' triangle. Look, we have to abide by road laws, such as buckling seat belts, ensuring headlights, taillights, brake lights are working, etc. I respect the Amish, but if we allow them to NOT have the triangle, the next religion will say theirs forbids them from wearing a helmet whilst on their motorcycles. You get the idea. You have to have the triangle on there.

    September 18, 2011 at 10:21 pm |
    • Tracy

      In the state of Kentucky you do not have to wear a helmet to ride a motorcycle.

      October 19, 2011 at 9:50 am |
  10. Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

    The fact is that the Amish use public thoroughfares paid for by all taxpayers and should not be exempt from the laws that govern the rest of us. If they don't want to adhere to the same laws, then they shouldn't use the same roads.

    September 18, 2011 at 9:44 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      What is say is not whay I mean, I am mean mostly, but mostly a collection of my thoughtless bigotry that manifests itself as a sound of reason in words.

      September 19, 2011 at 9:25 am |
    • Tracy

      I'm not sure where you get your info at but they do pay taxes.If we go by your way of thinking GREAT LET"S GIVE THEM THEIR OWN ROADS AND DO AWAY WITH THE WALKING TRAILS THAT NEVER GET USED!!!!I for one would not mind my tax dollars going for that!!

      October 19, 2011 at 9:53 am |
  11. CrowdedPond

    Who gives a sh!t.

    September 18, 2011 at 9:02 pm |
  12. John Via

    Ikf these were Muslim instead of Amish there would be no trials or charges. They would make a change in the law for them.

    September 18, 2011 at 7:04 pm |
    • Tracy


      October 19, 2011 at 9:54 am |
  13. r.ortiz

    the amish people are god fearing people they should be left along, the round red safety reflectors are enough, also at least they should resect red traffic lights and stop signs, i am sure something can be worked out instead of jail time. the law should instead consentrate on those bad car driver who have no regards but to themselves, either drunk or texting on a phone these are the ones who are dangerous.

    September 18, 2011 at 9:48 am |
  14. stacell72

    Then I guess the Amish need to be walking their happy a__es instead of using horses w/black buggies!

    September 18, 2011 at 9:14 am |
  15. pmcollectorboy

    "regulates everything from. . ." Translation. Thought control.

    "Via said he paid the fine because Levi Zook has a son with cerebral palsy." Are you kidding me?!

    September 17, 2011 at 6:35 pm |
  16. RightTurnClyde

    Mama, take this buggy off of me
    I can't use it anymore.
    It's gettin' dark, too dark for me to see
    I feel like I'm knockin' on heaven's door.

    Knock, knock, knockin' on heaven's door
    Knock, knock, knockin' on heaven's door
    Knock, knock, knockin' on heaven's door
    Knock, knock, knockin' on heaven's door

    September 17, 2011 at 12:14 pm |
    • Billygee

      What is the last thing to go through an Amish man's mind when he hits the bumper of a Chevy Tahoe? His axle.

      September 17, 2011 at 5:51 pm |
  17. Q

    One's "rights", religious or otherwise, end when they impact others in society as in the old phrase, "your right to swing your fist ends at someone else's nose". Operating their vehicles on public roads, they are bound by the same laws as everyone else. Once within the legal system, again, their rights are superseded by reasonable needs of society and corrections personnel (e.g. pictures, ensuring their clothing doesn't present a hazard to themselves or others, etc). If this law is being selectively applied, then that is an issue for appeal. If other actual inmates (not temporary detainees) were allowed to wear street clothes while they were not, again, possible grounds for a civil rights lawsuit (though even here it appears the corrections officers were making a good faith attempt to provide alternative clothing rather than orange jumpsuits while the men were incarcerated). All that said, this doesn't appear to rise to the level of persecution of the Amish for their specific religious beliefs, but rather, an unfortunate (for them) intersection of their religious practices and the laws of the communities in which they reside.

    September 17, 2011 at 12:37 am |
    • RightTurnClyde

      50,000 Americans die every year in traffic accidents. Millions injured (permanently). Families destroyed. Been 50,000 since 1950 = 3,000,000 (more than our wars!) IT S NO JOKE .. and it is no place for a stand off over Amish oddities. There is nothing in the bible, in logic or in morality and ethics that requires any odd form of dress or behavior .. buggies, old fashioned hats .. or strange dances or strange music .. chants, Latin, hocus-pocus of any kind. It is all malarky. You can be good or bad without help. You can be an alcoholic or a druggie or Mother Teresa ... it is a matter of choice (not of dress) .. you ARE the consequence of your choices .. (make them wisely) ..

      September 17, 2011 at 12:22 pm |
    • Richard S Kaiser

      @ RightTurnClyde

      Choice or consequences is it? Whatever happened to "Truth or Consequences"?

      It is a truth that roads are public domain and in that, public laws are enforced upon the general masses that use them. We have "no" choice but to abide by the laws regarding the public roadways.

      September 17, 2011 at 12:55 pm |
    • RightTurnClyde

      Interesting (to me) that you and most others gloss right over the 50,000/year fatality rate. Now the same people who could not care about 50,000 (in traffic); become incensed about McVeigh or an execution or a village that gets bombed .. only some human death is important (not all) and the media decides which ones (that is the truth).

      September 17, 2011 at 1:07 pm |
    • Mark from Middle River

      >>>"50,000 Americans die every year in traffic accidents. Millions injured (permanently). Families destroyed. Been 50,000 since 1950 = 3,000,000 (more than our wars!)"

      Can you give us the percentage of those 50,000 are Amish. I see a few kids this month died when their buggy was hit by a SUV. I am searching but I find more and more Amish Deaths because of poor motor vehicle drivers with a percentage of those drivers drunk.
      More Amish deaths by DUI
      Posted on July 20th, 2011 in Uncategorized

      It’s been a terrible two weeks for Amish on the road.

      The Friday before last, a semi crashed into a carriage in Christian County, Kentucky, killing an Amish toddler. The driver was charged with operating a vehicle under the influence.

      The next day a van driver, apparently also inebriated, hit a horsecart in northern Indiana, killing a 12-year-old Amish boy.

      Now, five Amish have been killed in upstate New York. A driver attempted to pass a tractor and struck a vanload of Amish. He has been charged with driving while intoxicated, and homicide. The County Sheriff called the wreck “the worst I’ve ever seen”.

      Right Turn, we are giving drivers more and more powerful cars and trucks but at the same time along with the plague of alcoholism we now have ones on their cell phones, PDAs and other in-car gadgets that were not present back in the early days of the automobile. I think they should have the triangles on their cars but we have you saying

      >>>"(more than our wars!) IT S NO JOKE .. and it is no place for a stand off over Amish oddities. There is nothing in the bible, in logic or in morality and ethics that requires any odd form of dress or behavior .. buggies, old fashioned hats .. or strange dances or strange music .. chants, Latin, hocus-pocus of any kind. It is all malarky."

      Why do we not get our own house in order first. I know if I am on the road and I have some one in a Lexux, Mercedes AMG or an insanely upgraded Mustang on a road and a Amish family on the road in a Buggy ..... I know which is the more dangerous.

      The question is this. Since the Amish Buggy is barely moving at jogging speed or bicycle speed, why do we not also require the others to have on more reflective gear to save their lives. Chances are the number of pedestrians and pedal bikers killed each year is way higher than the number of Amish killed.

      September 17, 2011 at 1:54 pm |
    • RightTurnClyde

      (I use this expanded text because the bot thinks I used naughty words) @ M a r k . . . .t h i s . .i s . .a c t u a l l y . .a . .m a t t e r . .o f . .p h y s i c s . . . .I . .r e f e r . .y o u . .t o . .t h e . . A c c i d e n t . .R e c o n s t r u c t i o n . .M a n u a l . .p u b l i s h e d . .b y . .N o r t h w e s t e r n . .U n i v e r s i t y . .T r a f f i c . .I n s t i t u t e . .i n . .E v a n s t o n . .I l l i n o i s . . .Y o u . .d o . .n o t . .h a v e . .t o . .b e . .a . .p h y s i c i s t . .t o . .u n d e r s t a n d . .t h a t . .a . .p e r s o n . .r i d i n g . .a . .b i c y c l e . .o n . .a n . .I n t e r s t a t e . .h i g h w a y . .i s . .s u i c i d a l . . .( c o m m o n . .s e n s e ) . . .H i g h w a y . .w o r k e r s . .w e a r . .r e f l e c t i v e . .v e s t s , . . s e t . .o u t . .o r a n g e . .c o n e s . .( e v e n . .f l a r e s ) . .h u n d r e d s . .o f . .y a r d s . .b e f o r e . .a . .c a r . .r e a c h e s . .t h e i r . .w o r k . .s i t e . . . .t h e y . .h a v e . .y e l l o w . .o r . .r e d . .f l a s h i n g . .l i g h t s . .a n d . .e v e n . .s o . .a r e . .a t . .g r e a t . .r i s k . . .T h e . .n a t i o n s . .h i g h w a y s . .a r e . .n o t . .b u i l t . .f o r . .h o r s e – d a w n . .b u g g i e s . . .T h e y . .a r e . .b u i l t . .t o . .c a r r y . .t h e . .e s s e n t i a l . .n e e d s . .o f . .3 0 0 . .m i l l i o n . .p e o p l e . .a n d . .q u i c k l y . . .R a i l r o a d s . .a r e . .a t . .c a p a c i t y . .a n d . .t r u c k s . .a r e . .n e e d e d .- – . .f o o d , . .f u e l , . .m e d i c a l . .n e e d s . . .T h e . .A m i s h . .( o r . .k i n d r e d . .p r a c t i t i o n e r s . .s u c h . .a s . .M e n n o n i t e s ) . .a r e . .a . .q u a i n t . .a n a c h r o n i s m . .t h a t . .d o . .n o t . .f i t . .i n . .m o d e r n . .l i f e . .( t h a t . .i s . .t h e i r . .c h o i c e ) . . .T h e r e . .i s . .n o . . . .p l a c e . .f o r . .h o r s e . .b u g g i e s . .o n . .m o d e r n . .h i g h w a y s . .( o r . .b i c y c l e s . .o r . .s k a t e . .b o a r d s . .o r . .p e d e s t r i a n s . .o r . .u n s u p e r v i s e d . .a n i m a l s . . . .) . . .I t . .i s . .n o t . .a . .g a m e . .( i t . .i s . .l i f e . .a n d . .d e a t h ) . . .I t . .i s . .n o t . .a . .c o n t e s t . .o f . .w i l l s . .o r . .a . .d e m o n s t r a t i o n . .o f . .f r e e d o m s . . .I f . .t h e . .A m i s h . .C H O O S E . .t o . .d r e s s . .i n . .a n . .o d d . .w a y . .a n d . .d r i v e . .h o r s e . .b u g g i e s . . . .t h a t . .i s . .t h e i r . .c h o i c e . . . .b u t . .t h e r e . .i s . .n o . .p l a c e . .f o r . .t h a t . .C H O I C E . .o n . .a . .m o d e r n . .h i g h w a y . . .I f . .y o u . .w e r e . .t o . .c r e a t e . .a . .s i t u a t i o n . .t h a t . .m a d e . .m e . .a . .k i l l e r . .( s u c h . .a s . .j u m p i n g . .i n . .f r o n t . .o f . .m y . .c a r ) . .t h a t . .i s . .Y O U R . .s i n . . .S o . .p l e a s e . .d o . .n o t . .c l a i m . .t h a t . .a . .C h r i s t i a n . .d o c t r i n e . .r e q u i r e s . .A m i s h . .t o . .d o . .t h a t . .t o . .h u n d r e d s . .o f . .o t h e r . .p e o p l e . .m e r e l y . .t o . .d o m i n a t e . .o t h e r s . .b y . .t h e i r . .s t u b b o r n . .w i l l . . .I t . .i s . .n o t . .C h r i s t i a n . .v i r t u e .

      September 18, 2011 at 12:40 pm |
  18. *frank*

    I can scarcely see to type through the deluge of tears pouring from my eyes...

    September 17, 2011 at 12:32 am |
  19. Terri

    I do not know these Amish people from West Ky. But I do know John Via. I attend church with him and his wife in Reidland. They are wonderful christian people. John has been through alot with his own health in the last few yrs. But The Amish I have met before are God fearing law abiding people. They follow Gods law to the letter. Which is what every person is suppose to do, however we DON'T. We as christians are not made to god against our faith at any time so why are they being made to. You would think with a country that can get an animals heart to work inside a human being and can put man on the moon would be able to come up with a way to work this out so that both sides can live with this without going against their beliefs in God. We as Christians aren't being asked to step out against our religious freedom are we? NO I DON'T THINK SO !!!!! why are they? Is it because they are different? I hope not.These folks origionally came here to get away from there strict religious persicution they were going through in Europe. Lets try to work this out. Have we become a communist Nation? Dear God I Hope Not....

    September 17, 2011 at 12:04 am |
    • Peace

      Terri-Summed up very well! Please give our best wishes to John Via and his family. We uphold him in our thoughts and prayers as we work towards an amicable solution.

      In the grand scheme of things this looks very trivial and can definetly be worked out!

      Love you much Amish! stay strong! God Bless!

      September 17, 2011 at 10:23 am |
  20. John Via

    Update on our Amish men that were jailed for not using the reflective triangle. When they were booked into jail, they were forced to have photos made for mug shots, totally against their religious belief, were forced to wear dark grey jail clothes, while other prisoners were allowed to wear their street clothes, they were kept in the drunk tank the entire time they were jailed, and were forced to eat their food with their fingers while all the other prisoners were allowed to have eating untenils. What is next? They are all out of jail at the time of this writing, but back to court we go again on 10/10/11 for the same charges. What can the court and jail think of next to punish these people?

    September 16, 2011 at 10:03 pm |
    • Sun

      That is very heart wrenching, please let the Amish people know that we love them dearly and feel very sorry for this travesty.

      May they feel heartened by the Love of God that surrounds them and will protect them now and forever.

      Hope that all this can be resolved amicably so they can live in Peace!

      Thanks for your support of these very dear and wonderful people.

      September 16, 2011 at 10:12 pm |
    • Redneck louie

      im agonna email them amishers the first chanct i gets

      September 16, 2011 at 10:15 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Please provide the link to that news story.

      September 17, 2011 at 12:41 am |
    • tallulah13

      Still no link? I am left to suspect that you made this up.

      September 17, 2011 at 1:55 pm |
    • 789

      hey tallulah13-

      What you do here is bully people, is this is how you were raised? is that all you do? did you even bother to read this article? Keep your venom to yourself and leave the Amish alone.

      September 18, 2011 at 7:50 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Why? Why should anyone "leave the Amish alone" when their buggies are a hindrance and a hazard to others?

      And why would you accuse Tallulah of "bullying" when all she asked for was a source? Or is it really just that you're put out because there's no truth to the claims made by the poster and you're irritated that anyone would request facts?

      Tough toenails, 789.

      September 18, 2011 at 6:11 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.