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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. Reality

    The Pennsylvania Amish has similar issues with the orange triangle. Don't remember how the issue was resolved but it appears now all Amish buggies and wagons have the orange triangle.

    September 14, 2011 at 11:55 pm |
    • Reality

      The Pennsylvania Amish had similar issues with the orange triangle. Don't remember how the issue was resolved but it appears now all Pennsylvania Amish buggies and wagons in the Lancaster area have the orange triangle.

      September 15, 2011 at 12:13 am |
  2. PaulSC

    They don't own the roads. If they don't want to obey rules governing public rights of way, then they don't get to drive on them. Period.

    Let them build their own roads for horses and buggies on private property.

    September 14, 2011 at 11:54 pm |
  3. Dandy

    I live in a large Indiana Amish community. We oftentimes have more buggy traffic than car traffic in front of our house.
    They selectively determine what they want to believe and not, there is no one set of rules for Amish. Some of them use the triangles up here and some do not. Some use nothing even on little kiddy buggies and carts which is just plan crazy. A couple of kids were run over recently when they pulled out in front of a SUV – the buggy/cart driver was 10 years old!
    I say if they don't want to follow the laws regarding signage on their buggies, fine, they don't need to drive buggies as they can walk. Some of the Amish up here also do not believe that they need to follow the sanitation laws, meaning they can dump their sewage into a nearby stream untreated. They oftentimes do not follow building codes or even laws regarding the maximum number of residents on a piece of property. A lot of the Amish are quite stupid as they only have an 8th grade education. In general, they are very paranoid since they know no better. I find the Amish rather sad as they contribute almost nothing to society and they are very self centered. Their lack of education is designed to keep the herd together but in this day and age many are having a hard time surviving on labor wages.

    Regarding the reflective triangles, they need to enforce the law. Say you are driving down the road and you run over a little buggy/cart with 4 kids in it being pulled by a miniature horse because you can't see them. How are you going to feel the rest of your life? Screw their religion, I wouldn't want to live with something like that. They can live freely with the triangle attached to the back of their black buggy.

    September 14, 2011 at 11:54 pm |
    • I'm Henry the Eighth I am

      That was intelligent, insightful, and well-written, Dandy. You wil be hated for it.

      September 14, 2011 at 11:57 pm |
    • Luigi

      Having completed just the 8th grade isn't necessarily a sign of intelligence. It's a sign of knowledge.

      So, how do you know the intelligence level of the nearby Amish?

      September 15, 2011 at 12:15 am |
  4. James H. Black

    Obivously, Kentucky can change the law if they so desire (and they should) to take the Amish's beliefs into account. The Amish are apparently doing their best to comply with the spirit of the law if not the letter of it. This is just plain big government bullying. Have they done any tests to indicate that the triangle system is better than what the Amish are trying to use? I doubt it.

    September 14, 2011 at 11:54 pm |
    • Dandy

      Some Amish refuse to use even reflective tape or reflectors, what about that?? Some Amish around me turn off their buggy lights at night and then flip them on when they see a vehicle (sometimes they forget! ) I say they don't want to drive a buggy with a triangle, fine. They can walk.

      September 14, 2011 at 11:56 pm |
    • Maybe try logic

      So the government should rewrite laws just because someone doesn't like it? I'd rather not have a government that caters to the whims of the religious.

      September 14, 2011 at 11:56 pm |
  5. Silly

    The roads are asphalt! That's pretty modern compared to the horse and buggy. Seems like they have no problem making use of those! Silly people.

    September 14, 2011 at 11:50 pm |
  6. when

    Peace to the Amish!

    September 14, 2011 at 11:48 pm |
    • Love them cults

      And brains. Brains to the Amish! Please!

      September 14, 2011 at 11:54 pm |
  7. London G. Welsh

    I live in upstate New York and I see Amish buggies all the time, in fact everyone I have seen has a reflector on the back. This must be some local thing there in Kentucky.

    September 14, 2011 at 11:48 pm |
    • Christy

      There are different branches to the Amish religion. Just like Christianity has different branches (Methodist, Baptist etc.) who have different beliefs. Some branches are stricter then others when it comes to these ideas.

      September 15, 2011 at 12:00 am |
  8. Apathy4u

    I have read both the article and the posts, and I still am not able to see how any of this has to do with God. It is about the safety of everyone on public roads. I have issues with certain laws, but as a God-fearing American, I obey them anyway...simply because it is the law! I don't care what the religion is about; one must obey the law that was put in place for the good of all, not just some.

    September 14, 2011 at 11:46 pm |
    • Dandy

      The Amish they can put God into any issue. A lot of them are not firing on all cylinders due to ignorance/lack of education.

      September 14, 2011 at 11:58 pm |
    • Luigi

      Dandy, this time you used ignorance, which is correct. I'm baffled by the inconsistency. Can you explain?

      On another note, have you tried talking to any of the Amish? I have a question you could ask. Is putting your neighbor's life in jeopardy, in any way, showing love for your neighbor? (Look at Matthew 22:36-40.)

      And if they refuse to talk to you about it, how is that showing love for their neighbors?

      September 15, 2011 at 12:22 am |
  9. Colin

    It amazes me how, in the 21st Century, we still have these backwoods simpletons who believe in Iron Age Middle Eastern sky gods.

    But enough about Christians, the Amish need to grow up, too.

    September 14, 2011 at 11:45 pm |
  10. Martin

    I lived in Amish country in Pennsylvania for six years. I had a horse farm and had a lot of work done by Amish on my place. They were very hard workers and very honest. But they are backward in many of their views and practices. They are brutal in their treatment of the horses that pull their buggies. And the Amish men treat their wives harshly and even administer physical punishment when they are displeased with them. And they have bizarre rules. They won't have a land line phone, but they will have a cell phone. They don't drive cars or trucks, but they own them and have "English" drive them. They basically believe this life is a test for getting into the next and by living a plain life and working all the time they will avoid temptation and earn their place in paradise. Finally, many puppy mills are owned and run by Amish, and they keep their dogs in horrific conditions.

    September 14, 2011 at 11:43 pm |
    • Sarah

      I believe one of the beliefs regarding Ordnung isn't that the Amish can't have "modern" technology, but that technology can't keep them literally "connected" to the outside world. It doesn't really make sense, but that type of justification is used to explain why they can have a cell phone (no wires) versus a landline (wired). It really doesn't make sense considering what the technology actually does, however. Thus, owning a car means you are going to have to deal with all the stuff that comes with having a car (service, etc.) but driving in a car as a passenger means someone else has to deal with that.

      September 14, 2011 at 11:55 pm |
    • Christy

      Part of that comes down to also the fact that some Amish ordnungs can not own things for personal use, but they can for their business. So some will have a phone for their business.

      September 15, 2011 at 12:02 am |
    • Dandy

      I live amongst the Amish also and you really can't apply logic to almost anything that they do.
      The original idea of staying simple to better worship God has gotten totally lost.
      Some are driving cars in Indiana now. My next door neighbor has a phone. They also have an automatic generator – it is switched on inside the house. I think they have AC in one or more rooms as the generator runs a lot in hot weather. They have had cell phones for years. They are brutal with their horses and animals. And like you say not so nice with their wives and kids.

      September 15, 2011 at 12:02 am |
  11. Harvey The Rabbit

    Well how about we look aroung the internet and check out the facts.

    Are there quite a few buggy accidents? Yes, it turns out that there are.

    Do cars and other vehicles hit them? Yes, but interestingly enough, while it is a major source of accidents, it is not the largest cause of accidents. The horse is, for various reasons. The horse almost certainly causes a significant percentage of the crashes with other vehicles as well. Operator error is a big one as well.

    Do the accidents tend to happen more at night? It seems so.

    Who tends to get hurt or killed? The Amish. Injury and death rates for non-Amish in these accidents are very low. Part of that is the relatively unprotected design of the carriage, but part must be that in accidents that do not involve other vehicles, the Amish are really the only people at risk.

    So what is there to learn from this? Despite the slow speeds, the horse-and-buggy is not a particularly safe means of transportation. Furthermore, the buggy really does not mix well with other vehicles, not only because it is lightly constructed and moving at a very different rate than the other vehicles, but also because the horses are capable of becoming spooked or unexpectedly going in undesired directions.

    The number of accidents at night strongly imply that those triangles are actually a good idea, especially since those injured are most often the Amish families.

    So considering that, these people would be much better served in trying to improve their safety at all costs instead of trying to make their vehicles even less safe.

    But God is involved, so reason is unwelcome.

    September 14, 2011 at 11:42 pm |
    • S

      Very well put. It's a shame these people won't use logic.

      September 14, 2011 at 11:47 pm |
    • Aim-ish

      Excellent post!

      September 15, 2011 at 12:45 am |
  12. Jim Duron

    I've had plenty of amish pull out in front of me with buggies or cross multiple roads with little conern for on coming traffic. they use the roads and they need to abide by the same laws, goes for farm equipment too.

    September 14, 2011 at 11:40 pm |
  13. Andragogue

    Who made the Amish religious rules? Men. No god handed them down. Who made the traffic laws? Men. No god handed those down either. This is a simple matter of one group's man-made opinion trying to take precedence over the highway safety laws established by valid governments. If they want to drive their buggies down the highway, they can follow the rules. If not, plow a path across their own collective properties. They have THAT choice, always. There is nothing in the American creed that requires me to honor someone else's religious beliefs if I find them repugnant or stupid. But the American creed does require all citizens and visitors to respect and obey established law or else work in lawful ways to change the law. That is the essence of the American Experiment, the casting off of "monkish ignorance" to establish a self-determined government of men, not one based on the divine rights of kings or anyone else. If you think your religion puts you above all that, then you are one of those "domestic threats" we were warned against and I will fight you to uphold the oaths I have taken to defend this nation from all threats, foreign and domestic.

    September 14, 2011 at 11:38 pm |
    • Colin

      "There is nothing in the American creed that requires me to honor someone else's religious beliefs if I find them repugnant or stupid. "

      agreed, so help me understand why, on each of the following issueas, I am governed by the religious fantasies of Christians.

      (i) a woman's right to choose; (ii) use of condoms and other contraceptives; (iii) basic $ex education for teens; (iv) teaching evolution in school; (v) assisted suicide; (vi) gay marriage; (vii) treating drug abuse as principally a medical issue; (viii) population control; (ix) buying alcohol on a Sunday; and (x) stem cell research.

      September 14, 2011 at 11:41 pm |
    • Andragogue

      Made a reply to you, Colin. Good questions. Don't know where my reply went???

      September 15, 2011 at 12:03 am |
  14. SSampson

    Religious beliefs cannot supercede laws put in place for society as a whole – as long as the Law is not specifically designed to discriminate against a group (religious or not)... the rules of society must prevail – Roads are built for everyone in society – NOT one group – The rules put in place must take this into consideration....

    I take no offence to thier beliefs.... They should, however, respect others with equal conviction and understand the reasons here – I am sure that their religious beliefs require them to be considerate to others and respect all people – The majority of Amish seem to believe that !!! They seem to lead very moral lives from what I can tell...

    September 14, 2011 at 11:36 pm |
    • Dandy

      >>Religious beliefs cannot supercede laws put in place for society as a whole
      It does in Indiana! In fact they make exceptions for the Amish very frequently. Whereas I would be fined for certain activities, my next door neighbor is not since he is Amish. He put a building up across our property line by about 2 feet. I told him he had to move it and he refused due to his religion. The building department also refused to do anything about it, because he was Amish. I gave up on that one. Some can be very difficult to deal with due to their ignorance/lack of education.

      September 15, 2011 at 12:08 am |
  15. Colin

    This is analogous to when religious people want to withhold medical help from their babies based on their superst.itions about a god healing them. We as a society will tolerate religious fantasies up to the point where they really have a secular impact. Then we call them for what they are – obscure nonsense.

    Religion is great to indulge until it collides with reality, at which point it must give way. The deeper point is the tacit acknowledgement that it is all nonsense.

    September 14, 2011 at 11:34 pm |
    • Apathy4u

      I agree, Colin, that religion is no excuse for neglect or abuse. Intelligence (often in the form of common sense) is a God-given trait maligned by the Religious faithful. It reminds me of the joke about the man tossed overboard in the middle of the ocean. As rescue boats and others arrive to pluck the man out of the ocean, the man refuses and states, "God will save me!" When the man dies and goes to heaven, he asks God why he wasn't saved. God answers to him that he sent people to rescue him, but he refused God's rescue because of the form in which it came...

      September 15, 2011 at 12:04 am |
  16. FarterFox

    Atleast they don't emit CO2

    September 14, 2011 at 11:34 pm |
    • Andragogue

      Those horses emit methane gas, which is worse as a greenhouse gas.

      September 14, 2011 at 11:39 pm |
    • Dandy

      Sure they do... you haven't been around horses much have you??

      September 14, 2011 at 11:42 pm |
  17. Whimps

    You people who don't support these guy's right to NOT wear the stupid triangle are a bunch of wusses. A danger to who besides themselves? An ample amount of reflective tape would be more than sufficient and likely better seen by drivers. Get a grip you critics. Do we really have to legislate EVERYTHING?

    September 14, 2011 at 11:31 pm |
    • Maybe try logic

      Wow. It's just a triangle, and it could save lives. They are not only putting themselves in danger – they're putting other cars in danger. Do you think those buggies are light or made of Styrofoam? I'd suggest you take your own advice and get a grip.

      September 14, 2011 at 11:36 pm |
    • Dandy

      Some refuse to use any reflective tape at all.. so then what?
      How would you feel if I decided that due to my religion, I refused to use my car lights while driving at night?

      September 15, 2011 at 12:10 am |
  18. when

    All the other counties let them have reflecters that did not offend them.

    September 14, 2011 at 11:30 pm |
  19. pugh7755

    There is one fact that people are neglecting here. The Amish mode of transportation predates automobiles. Instead of the Amish changing their ways for modern automobiles, the law should have always worked around the Amish buggies since before cars everyone drove buggies, Amish or not.

    September 14, 2011 at 11:30 pm |
    • Andragogue

      Right. And we shall henceforth all move into caves and sod houses and other holes in the ground.

      September 14, 2011 at 11:41 pm |
    • Whatever

      Oh, he's not saying that. He's saying the modern housing tract should have been designed to accomodate the lifestyles of the cavedwellers, as they were there first. And since walking predated automobiles by millenia, interstate freeways should have been designed to accomodate them. And JFK International shoould accomodate biplanes.

      September 14, 2011 at 11:53 pm |
    • paganguy

      Roads were paved for automobiles not for buggies.

      September 15, 2011 at 12:02 am |
    • pugh7755

      Wow, a bunch of idiots trying to sound profound.

      @Andragogue, since I never mentioned moving into caves and sod houses, I guess your feeling a little paranoid and thinking that would mean sharing yours.

      @Whatever, just for your information JFK International does accommodate biplanes. Good try at sounding smart, though.

      @pagan guy, the first paved roads appeared around 4000 BC, not many cars around at that time...do you think?

      Smarten up boys, before leaving comments. You only embarrass yourselves.

      September 15, 2011 at 12:55 am |
  20. Skipper

    I dont mind if they want to shun the "worldly" and avoid loud safety colors, etc. Just stay off the "worldly" roads.... It sounds like their convictions would require them to only ride on dirt anyway.

    September 14, 2011 at 11:26 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.