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. alpca3877

    Does any buggy really need an orange triangle? When's the last time you saw a buggy going 60? It's not like they're disguising them to look like Fords, either. If you roll up on a buggy, there's not much you could confuse it with, and it WILL be going slow as molasses.

    September 15, 2011 at 12:39 am |
  2. Tony Hamelin from St. Louis, MO

    So many of these comments talk about and quote or reference he Bible....yet these commentators don't live it. Love and Mercy is God's message and commandment to us...I hear religion..I hear self rightiousness......but no mercy...no love.....These people are like stones in a river....th message of Jesus surrounds them like the water of the river, yet if your break the stone...it is dry...because Christ has not penetrated their hearts.....how sad.

    September 15, 2011 at 12:36 am |
    • rob

      you are sad. keep believing in mythical creatures you boob.

      September 15, 2011 at 12:41 am |
    • tallulah13

      What the heck are you talking about? We are a secular nation. The rules of the road are in place to help with the safety of all who share the road. If these individuals decide that they are above the law, what's to stop somebody in a sports car to decide the same thing.

      It the Amish use the road, they should obey the law of the road. If their god objects, he can show himself and let people know.

      September 15, 2011 at 12:42 am |
  3. HW

    Where is the common sense. Secular laws infringing on Religious laws. Why does it have to be instransigent? I am an atheist, yet I can understand the religious zeal these people have. So let them use the whole reflective tape and lanterns. Big deal; no the law is the law. Where is our common sense gone? Oh, if we let the Amish get away with this, then everyone will want their own treatment. Please, are we children? This is a battle of wills that could be solved by allowing these people, who by the way bother nobody, use the reflective tape instead of the triangle. Man, aren't there more important issues than this one?

    September 15, 2011 at 12:35 am |
    • Andragogue

      No HW, and you should understand this. In a nation of laws, civil, secular laws, no one's religion can trump civil law. They believe what they want, worship as they please and they are free to live as they like, but only as long as they do not break the civil law. (No, you cannot marry your 10-yr old niece.) The is the absolute basis of the American Experiment and NOTHING is more important to a citizen such as myself.

      September 15, 2011 at 12:44 am |
  4. jon

    Drunk drivers, racing, maniac road-rage...yeah, those amish and those triangles are gonna solve all this. Brilliant use of the courts.

    September 15, 2011 at 12:34 am |
  5. Mike in SA

    Wow...after reading some of the comments here, it makes me SO proud to be an American where all have rights and freedoms...as long as they comply with those who only believe in THEIR rights andTHEIR choice of religion or none religion or THEIR comcept of God or of no God.

    If they will us laterns, highly reflective tape, etc. sounds good to me.

    September 15, 2011 at 12:32 am |
    • ChicagoRob

      so those mormon groups should be alowed to marry 14 year old girls because of thier religious beliefs?

      September 15, 2011 at 12:35 am |
  6. Blogson

    The warning triangle is required on slow-moving vehicles in many states to prevent crashes, deaths, and injuries. The Amish who refuse to use them are jeopardizing not only their safety and that of their horses, but that of other road users as well. Helping to insure the safety of others is part of the commandment about loving one's neighbor (everyone else, according to Jesus).. If those Amish follow the Bible they also would know that they are supposed to obey the law, for example as Paul the apostle points out in the Bible letter to the church at Rome. There also are Biblical warnings about making images and other representations of God.

    September 15, 2011 at 12:27 am |
    • ChicagoRob

      some how I don't think the people writing the bible would have ever guessed the world would be like it is now. Of course bring a gay couple into a Church and see how fast the love thy neighbour gets forgotten.

      September 15, 2011 at 12:30 am |
  7. TheBossSaid

    The Amish violate my freedom of religion. They have square heads. My religion says that only people with rounded heads should be allowed to drive on the roads.

    September 15, 2011 at 12:24 am |
  8. rob

    the amish are a sick group. they inflict horrible suffering on animals under the shield of religion. prosecute them for their social ills and then tax them. actually just treat them like they treat their animals and then throw them out of our country.

    September 15, 2011 at 12:23 am |
    • Tony Hamelin from St. Louis, MO

      if all of america were like you....I'd pray for nuclear war.

      September 15, 2011 at 12:29 am |
    • rob

      i pray you waste your life believing in make believe people. oh wait, i don't have to pray....

      September 15, 2011 at 12:51 am |
    • Rick

      "throw them out of our country"???? They're Amish not immigrants, you moron!
      You can't deport an American. You sound like one of the PETA terrorist that thinks more of animal right than humans, and equally as ignorant.

      September 15, 2011 at 1:20 am |
    • rob

      i didn't say deport, i said throw. hopefully right into the ocean. if you are not spending every second of your life working to improving the lives of all animals (including humans) then get off the earth.

      September 15, 2011 at 1:35 am |
  9. Bruce

    Either they stay off the roads, obey the laws or impound the buggies.I am a Trucker that hauls lumber from mills in Kentucky ect.These buggies are so dangerous on public roads.You come over a hill and there they are crawling along and it is all I can do to get slowed down to avoid them when I am doing the speed limit or less with a load on. Get them off the roads.

    September 15, 2011 at 12:19 am |
    • rob

      do us all a favor and just run them over. spare the horses though and let them run free.

      September 15, 2011 at 12:25 am |
    • Luigi

      Bruce, you are aware that the Amish won't read your post. Right?

      They don't use computers. (Otherwise they would be also driving regular motor vehicles.)

      September 15, 2011 at 12:26 am |
    • debbie

      wow – who the heck do you think you are? they are no doubt allowing YOU to travel on THEIR road to begin with.

      September 15, 2011 at 12:27 am |
    • tallulah13

      Hey, Debbie? Public roads belong to all of us. That is why we have to learn the rule of the road for our specific state and get driver's licenses: So we have common information about how to use the road.

      September 15, 2011 at 12:31 am |
    • doitnow

      Shut up Debbie

      September 15, 2011 at 12:38 am |
    • CJA

      If you can't avoid a stopped vehicle you are going to fast. What if a load fell off another truck? From the description of your driving you'd not be able to stop. It is ALWAYS your fault if you rear end another vehicle. You must slow so that your stopping distance is within sight

      September 15, 2011 at 1:57 am |
  10. Tony Hamelin from St. Louis, MO

    Mother Teresa once told an American who was volunteering in India, to go back to America....the need was greater in the U.S. He asked why? After all, America does not have anywhere near the abject poverty and suffering as in India. Teresa's reply...You must go back she said...because...."There is no love there"...........hearing your hateful, unchristian and plain angry and crude comments about simple people trying to live their faith without harassment....well....not only should you people be ashamed....her insight on America was dead on. Our hate and anger and lack of love for others, and even ourselves...will be our downfall.

    September 15, 2011 at 12:17 am |
    • Aim-ish

      Using Mother Teresa FAIL.

      September 15, 2011 at 12:31 am |
    • ChicagoRob

      I love you!

      September 15, 2011 at 12:32 am |
    • tallulah13

      What exactly is your point? It is the law that all people who use the road use a common set of rules. This is to provide safety for all. Unless you are commenting on the selfishness of the Amish in this article, your comment is pointless.

      September 15, 2011 at 12:32 am |
    • Maybe try logic

      Is it loving to stick to antiquated rules based upon a 2000+ year old text in spite of the fact that sticking to those rules may cause harm to others? That's selfish and obstinate – that's not love.

      September 15, 2011 at 12:36 am |
    • Also from MO

      Tony, you ought to come down to SW MO and hang out with the Amish down here for a bit. They are arrogant. They are abusive to their children. They will call the cops when it suits them but refuse to submit to the law when they are the violators. Some of them even hang out in bars. We recently got some of them on video stealing fruit from my mother-in-laws garden. Just rolled up in their buggy when they thought everyone was at work and took what they wanted from another man's property. Name call you want, Sir. Call everyone on here "unChristian" if you wish. But I suggest you actually spend some time with some of Amish folk before you start saying some of us that have had unsavory dealings with them are "hateful."

      September 15, 2011 at 12:39 am |
  11. Apathy4u

    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 12:12 am |
  12. Sharky

    Beware of any religion that tells you how to dress. This is a warning sign.

    September 15, 2011 at 12:12 am |
    • Balsy

      The only reason you believe your religion doesn't have dress codes is because its been tailored to be more convenient and less invasive. Tell me this: Why has Christianity been changed countless times since it was apparently handed down to humanity from god himself? Don't you think god would have meant what he said the first time he said it? Any changes made after the death of Jesus are made solely for greed, convenience, and power over the masses - simply because after Jesus died there was supposedly no further communication with god up until now, 2011. Technically, you should still be believing the teachings of the old testament;and if you believe that, then you believe women should be stoned for committing adultery.

      September 15, 2011 at 12:36 am |
    • doitnow

      That's the beauty of freedom of choice, you don't have to belong to it. These people choose to, no one is telling them what to do- those are the guidelines of their religion and they choose to abide by them. If you had a little more sense, you might open your eyes just a bit more to see that...

      September 15, 2011 at 12:44 am |
  13. Shanti

    This is bs. If you dont want to follows the laws for usage of 'public' roads that are supported by the 'tax' payers, then stay off the public roads. You can do what you want on your own private road! The amish are not special. Off their land they have to follow the same laws 'everyone' else has too.

    September 15, 2011 at 12:08 am |
  14. Big Al

    Another sect, so religious, that they are above the laws of the land where they live. Over 150 years ago these people left Germany in search of freedom. Americans (the "English," as they call us) have fought and died for this freedom without so much as a thank you...without so much as compliance with a law that these stubborn animals KNOW has nothing to do with vanity and EVERYTHING to do with safety and the public good. I would love to see how these fools would be treated in any other country on Earth except maybe our neighbors, the Canadians. Let them be martyrs all they want. And let them leave the country that protected them for a freer place, if one even exists. Had they tried their luck in their native Germany, they'd've died in the camps.

    September 15, 2011 at 12:08 am |
  15. pat b

    I think the amish should have to pay taxes!!! They use electricity all the time!!! I live in northern butler county, pa and 5/8's of the amish are in construction and use power tools daily therefore should have to pay taxes since they aren't using hand tools like their religion requires them too!!! How bout the amish that made the electric heater that's for sale in the sunday papers "parade"magazine thingy???? They charge sales tax everytime they sell something they've made be it a rocking chair, porch swing, a barn or even construction on your house using power tools!!!!! I work at a pipe and supply store and they come in all the time buyin water heaters and well pumps and even pipe for septic systems?????????? What's wrong with our country??? My religion states that I don't have to pay to be free but every year I end up paying My taxes and if I don't I will go to jail!!!!! Get a grip america!!! Vote our congress out of office and get people who will run our country right and not want a few million a month to do it!!!!! Death row means you will die soon, not get treated better than 15/16ths of hard working americans and die of old age!!!! You shouldn't be able to sue the store you broke into for a million dollars or 2 cuz you fell thru the ventilation duct work and broke a leg and ribs and collar bone........ AND WIN!!! That judge needs shot!!! Get a grip america!!!! Oh yeah some religions say its ok to molest little kids but the law says you can't, so who's right and who's wrong????? The pope became the pope cuz he molested the most little boys without getting caught!!!! That's religion for ya!!!!!! I have a black mustang that's "louder" than my orange mustang!! Oh yeah true story here, there's an AMISH kid-21 years old, who has a $2,000 sound system aka (boom boom speakers) in his AMISH buggy and here's the kicker, he don't have to PAY TAXES either!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! W T F AMERICA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Get a grip and get control of our free country!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    September 15, 2011 at 12:03 am |
    • bingbangbong

      the Amish do pay income and property tax. self-employed Amish do not pay into social security tax and they do not receive social security benefits because they do not believe in "Insurance" as a concept. they believe that God will take care of them and they have community funds to take care of medical bills. Before you post, you should inform yourself about the facts.

      September 15, 2011 at 12:07 am |
    • WLOU

      Calm the eff down, you are going to give yourself an aneurism .

      September 15, 2011 at 12:11 am |
    • unretired05

      Sober up before you post.

      September 15, 2011 at 12:36 am |
    • Mare0568

      Actually Pat isn't far off base. We live in Northern PA and I get damn sick of them too. They ride with people - but can't own or drive a car. They use payphones and people's cell phones but can't own or have on of their own. They have babies in local hospitals and I don't mean they pop one out and leave immediately either. We see them in K-Mart - they buy disposable diapers, Kotex, etc. WTH??? Use cloth diapers and cloth pads and wash them out and hang them just like you are supposed to according to you rules and religion. Seriously? Disposable diapers - AND wipes - and Kotex pads? Really? And then, they ride around here on our dangerous, hilly, curvy roads, etc., and there have been numerous accidents throughout the years where they and their horses have been killed. Public roads were not designed for horses and buggies. I don't care what anyone's opinion is. Tractor trailers and, hell, regular drivers in cars, cannot safely exist on the same highways as horses and buggy's. It's just common sense. They may think it's okay and it's "God's will" if something bad happens but it's not fair to everyone else and the people who are in these accidents that have to live with killing, maiming, etc. children, people, animals, etc. I don't feel sorry for them. They chose this life which is fine. I have no issue with that. But if they are going to live it then, no, they shouldn't be using power tools and having boom boxes and speakers in their buggy's either.

      September 15, 2011 at 12:54 am |
  16. Luke

    If they don't want to put any reflectors on their buggy, they will see God very soon.

    September 15, 2011 at 12:00 am |
    • Angela Birch

      They use reflectors, they just object to the shape and color of this particular reflector. I would have just passed a rule that they had t have a 4×6 reflective placard on the back of their buggise that would reflect a big white box with the word buggy picked out on it. Should be as visable as the orange triangle and would deal with their objections as to the shape and color.

      September 15, 2011 at 12:40 am |
  17. Jake

    the amish are actually dix... they abuse the hell out of their animals and light fires unattended.

    September 15, 2011 at 12:00 am |
    • tallulah13

      I agree. They have some of the most horrific puppy mills in the country.


      September 15, 2011 at 12:44 am |
    • Angela Birch

      They light fires unattended? How many are necessary to light a fire?
      If you mean leave their fires unattended, The ones in my area don't unless they are in a fireplace. Abuse their animals? Some might but most do not. Ever been where the Amish live? The animals are fat and glossy, not thin and starved. They don't beat their horses and their dogs are friendly. I buy eggs regularly from a nearby amish farm, there are quite a few in this area. Never seen any abuse. The animals are friendly and well fed, When you go in the barns they are clean and tidy the animals bedder in thick piles of hay. They come over to their owners to be petted and their owners pat them and rub their heads. Be a little more specific if you think they are so abusive.

      September 15, 2011 at 12:49 am |
    • rob

      Angela are you seriously that naive you dolt! The amish culture is one of the worst offenders of animal welfare. Great you found one family that is decent to their animals. Hundreds of thousands of other animals suffer horribly in their puppy mills.

      September 15, 2011 at 12:58 am |
  18. amused123

    Double standard. They SHOULD be in jail and should wear standard uniforms. It's the law of the land. Their rights to freedom of religioun ends where it impedes on the safety of others. Ride in a horse drawn carriage? fine. Want to ride/drive it ona state/local/federal road your MUST obey the law. This is even justified biblically (fI;ll leave the quote to find yourself.) In a sense by refuging to use the bright orange sign (which is to protect others) they are disobeying Gods law or how they interpret it.
    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.

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

      funny how you say they are reading God's words wrong in the Bible...seriously last time I checked God didn't write any bible.
      The big problem is the courts and laws need to be seperate from religion. It is unfortunate that this law and their religion doesn't match up but really this is how that ball drops sometimes.

      September 15, 2011 at 12:27 am |
    • Luigi

      If you actually quoted, as you claimed, people could find passages. I'll reference two, in case anyone is interested.

      Matthew 22.15-22 and Romans 13:1-7

      September 15, 2011 at 1:52 am |
    • Luigi

      Another problem is that you don't seem to understand the concept of God's law. If you read further in Romans (Romans 13:8-10) you'll hopefully start to see the flaw in your argument. Also read John 3:16 and all of Galatians 3.

      But going back to Romans 13:8-10, you could find more support for your position. Under what stretch of "logic" can putting your neighbors' lives in danger some expression of loving your neighbors? Of course, it isn't. That's all you needed.

      I'd be happy if someone in Kentucky could ask one of these Amish people (who don't believe in those triangles) about how risking the lives of neighbors is showing love.

      September 15, 2011 at 1:57 am |
  19. DGH

    show me in the bible....were it talks about orange tingle sign..

    September 14, 2011 at 11:55 pm |
    • Maybe try logic

      The book of symbols was left out by the council of Nicaea, unfortunately.

      September 14, 2011 at 11:57 pm |
    • lokiman301

      You only need to have true faith my child. Only then shall you grasp the mystery of "The Orange Triangle", MWAHAHAHA!

      September 15, 2011 at 12:05 am |
    • tallulah13

      Orange Tingle Sign? Sound naughty. However, if a person chooses to live in the United States, they are required to follow the law of the land. The bible doesn't apply here.

      September 15, 2011 at 12:46 am |
  20. azrael

    I'm amused but also some what confounded or should i frankly say concerned by the response of some people on here.... had this been a gay black or some other denied some sort of civil liberty you all would be up in arms...... but when a peaceful religious order takes a stance on something ya'll turn into a bunch of hate mongering ignorant fools........ That door on tolerance does swing both ways wether ya like it or not....... If they are making a effort to comply in a way which doesn't not compromise there religious belief's without compromising safety on the road common sense should then prevail on the matter...........

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

      you are just stupid....were does it say in the bible that orange sign are prohibited.......it does not...don't bring Black, whites , gay or other in to this stupid argument...

      September 14, 2011 at 11:58 pm |
    • Maybe try logic

      Civil liberty? Are you kidding me? It's a friggin triangle!

      September 15, 2011 at 12:04 am |
    • Edwin

      azrael: you are both correct and incorrect. If it had been a conservative or liberal cause, those sides would be "up in arms" - you are correct. But since it was not a cause they care about, the activists either ignored the story or did not feel like posting.

      That leaves the trolls, who love to make obnoxious posts as often as possible. So it is not the same people posting who would be furious that a gay black transgendered illegal alien or staunch christian multimillionaire corporate CEO anti-abortionist was in a predicament.

      September 15, 2011 at 12:12 am |
    • JWWRD

      II completely agree about tolerance being a two way street. However, I'm not certain this is a prejudice issue as it is a public safety issue. Of what I can tell, everyone commenting on this board, including myself, need to do a bit more research before rushing to any judgments.

      September 15, 2011 at 12:19 am |
    • tom

      If you can't see a horse and buggy with red reflector tail lights, reflective tape, lanterns, and a big ass horse in front, a stupid orange triangle isn't going to help. This is just the "State" making everyone bow to their stupid rules. Those that want to make it about weather their religion mentions orange triangles are missing the point. Amused 123 even tries to make the point that they are breaking Gods law by NOT putting the orange triangle on their buggies. REALLY !!!
      FACT: there is nothing special about orange triangles that make vehicles any safer when displaying them. it's just that some bureaucrat got a wild hair up his a$$ one day and thats what they decided.

      September 15, 2011 at 12:21 am |
    • Luigi

      Tom, what does the triangle mean? (Yes, this is a test.)

      September 15, 2011 at 12:32 am |
    • tallulah13

      Either the law applies to everyone or it is pointless. I would rather have safety on the roads than anarchy. No one is stopping the Amish from doing what they like on their own property, but once they are on public property, the rules apply to them as much as they apply to anyone else. Religion doesn't make you special.

      September 15, 2011 at 12:48 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.