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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. OTR Truck Driver

    I am a truck driver and have more reflective DOT tape on my truck than you can fit on a buggy (and lights). The only time that a buggy is faster than me is, NEVER. I drive throughout the Amish country (and farm country) and the triangle is a life saver (both for me and them). It lets me know that the vehicle I am closing on is moving at EXTREMELY slow speeds. Imagine what 40 tons of tractor trailer would do to a horse drawn buggy, and what it would do to my mind if I hit one. Using the public roads is not in fact a god given right but a privilege. If you can not obey the laws for any reason then you do not need to be on them. I was stopped 15 years ago by the police for speeding in a school zone and given a $250 ticket (I was on my bicycle). Since I had broken the law I paid the ticket. In my opinion drivers ed needs to include a ride in a truck like mine. 90% of the drivers on the road have no respect for the job we do and no clue how fast we can react to your actions.

    September 15, 2011 at 2:18 am |
    • travis

      This man did not judge their way of life but instead pointed out the why safety is important.

      September 15, 2011 at 2:25 am |
    • Luigi

      How did the officer determine you were speeding? Radar doesn't work properly on bicycles. Gives a false reading because of the spokes. I hope he used something else.

      September 15, 2011 at 2:31 am |
    • Luigi

      I agree, Travis.

      September 15, 2011 at 2:32 am |
    • Ian

      I love how people say using the roads is a privilege however 99% of places in America, there is NO other way to get around. Society and infrastructure have developed to the favor of the personal automobile nearly everywhere, where all other forms of travel are dramatically inefficient by comparison and additionally everyone has a small section of their earnings ending up dropping blacktop all over everything. So explain exactly how it's a privilege for privileged people?

      September 15, 2011 at 2:34 am |
    • OTR Truck Driver

      Luigi, I was paced by an unmarked plain clothes detective (33 mph in 20 mph). My cyclometer confirmed his pacing). As to Ian the reason I was on a bicycle was that I could not afford all the fines that I got as a young and dumb teenager (I'm 47 now and have not had a ticket in 25 years). I did not have a license for over 10 years and found that if there is a will there is a way. Your thinking says that you are a lazy, in a hurry person. You are exactly the type of person that needs to ride in my truck for a day. You are the type of person who cuts in front of me so close that I can not see your lights over my hood (Had a motorcycle do this in Atlanta last week and was worried about feeling the thud)

      September 15, 2011 at 3:20 am |
  2. Breeze

    A mental illness, I love it! Makes perfect sense: delusions that there is a supernatural being dictating one's behavior and destiny, adherence to behaviors that make no sense in the context of society (such as communion, crossing oneself in the presence of icons, wrapping little cubes around your head and arm, prostrating yourself multiple times throughout the day)...If you have ever looked at Ganesh, the elephant-headed Hindu god, and thought: people who believe in that are wacko, then take a look at your water-walking, dead-reviving, fish-feeding, resurrecting Jesus. All religion is just plain looney.

    September 15, 2011 at 2:13 am |
    • travis

      You sound pretty religious yourself as much as you are preaching. But you also sound like an ignorant fool that everyone dislikes and stays away from.

      September 15, 2011 at 2:28 am |
    • Luigi

      All religion, eh? Have you studied all religions? You cited two. I'll let you to add Judaism and Islam for free. Now you have 4. There are lots of religions. Perhaps I can save you some time. Does religious naturalism make no sense? Why?

      September 15, 2011 at 2:35 am |
  3. Ituri

    Being from Indiana I'm use to seeing the buggies on the roads, all over the place. They MUST use the cones, its common to not see them until you're on top of them. The safety cones are a small thing when it comes to safety.

    If they can't abide by even this small thing, then they need to stay off the roads. They are a danger to themselves AND DRIVERS if they can't be easily spotted. Its not enough to claim religious freedom when other people are at risk.

    September 15, 2011 at 2:13 am |
    • jimtanker

      But god is their co-pilot. If they want to rely on a fictional character to save them from getting into an accident then I say let them. Then when it is found that they didn't have a safety sign in their buggy and are found at fault then you should be able to sue their community fo damages and medical bills. Simple as that.

      September 15, 2011 at 2:16 am |
    • Luigi

      Jim, upon what legal theory do you propose suing their community?

      September 15, 2011 at 2:40 am |
    • jimtanker

      People sue for much more feeble reasons then this every day. As I stated, if it can be proven that they were at fault, someone could sue.

      September 15, 2011 at 2:50 am |
  4. SecularTruther

    Well someone should tell them there is a way to please the invisible human looking creater and obey the law, walk your happy a$$es. If the christian god exists he hates technology, cares about how you dress and weith all the problems in the world how long your hair is. Well that's about right especially since your life is supposedly all a plan, though you have free will. If a teacher knows for 100% fact if a student is going to pass an exam, then what's the point of the test in the first place?

    P.S. since god judges all since everyone has original sin, how does he judge infants? Well Mike you cried loudly in public and disobeyed your parents when they said quiet but you kept crying, going #2 during a sermon, threw up on your parents countless times and your going to hell because you didn't have the mentally to accept Jesus in your heart or asked for forgiveness.

    September 15, 2011 at 2:08 am |
    • Luigi

      The Amish don't think God hates technology. The Amish use technology. Tools, such as a hammer, are technology. Perhaps you mean high technology. I wouldn't be so sure of that either. Many Amish are allowed to go to the hospital. I don't know enough to say all.

      September 15, 2011 at 2:50 am |
  5. CJA

    Yes they need to obey the law. But the law is stupid. Why must the sign be a certain shape? Why is not a huge round sign just as good or an "X". Did anyone study this. Maybe the law should say "A sign that is clearly visible in all conditions for 250 feet" and be done with it." Both sides are being dumb.

    September 15, 2011 at 2:07 am |
  6. Breeze

    The problem with religious fanatics is that everything is to them a symbol of something else. A triangle symbolizes the Holy Trinity, the numbers 666 mean the devil, God hates the color orange...the list of nonesense is too long to recite. Take it from Freud: Sometimes a banana is just a banana!

    September 15, 2011 at 2:03 am |
    • Miksalot

      I will assume that when their blood is splattered all over the road from the car that didn't see them, it will symbolize the blood that was shed for our sins?

      September 15, 2011 at 2:10 am |
  7. CommonSense

    Good grief, what a bunch of nuts. Why is it that religion is not recognized as a mental illness?????

    September 15, 2011 at 1:57 am |
    • travis

      Have you ever met any of them? You are a very ignorant person. It goes way beyond religion into a way of life. I envy them greatly. What I wouldn't give to have what they have. They don't worry whether their rims are big enough for their SUV, whether or not people will make fun of them for being virgins at the age 18, if people will laugh at their lack of designer jeans or the amount of facebook friends they have. They are one of the few Americans that don't live shallow lives. They may work from sunup to sundown but they also don't have to commute 2 hours a day or spend another hour shopping at WalMart daily. It is easy to judge someone that has a better life than you.

      September 15, 2011 at 2:20 am |
    • Luigi

      Travis, I wouldn't give anything to get what they have. My only child would be dead without the use of electricity.

      September 15, 2011 at 2:29 am |
    • Tired of the Fraud

      Travis, they shop at Walmart. Most of the time gabbing on their cellphones. Most of them are a crock.
      Other than them pulling out onto roadways around my house that people are travelling 55 mph; I think it is funny that if one of our dog craps on the ground somewhere and we dont pick it up, we are fines. But, when their horses crap all over the road, no one says a thing. Some may say who care? It is on the road...Well, ask anyone who rides a motorcycle or a bicycle why that sucks.
      Last week I saw an Amish guy driving a forklift backwards down a 55 mile an hour road..he was pulling a wagon and get this, while smoking a cigarette and listening to an iPod or something..They are a fraud.

      September 15, 2011 at 2:34 am |
    • travis

      Lol! Ok. They do shop at Wal Mart and eat at McDonalds. Seen it myself several times. They use Vanderbilt hospital where I live frequently. I guess I am just saying I am jealous about their way of life for not having to worry about meaningless things the way we do. They just seem way happier than we are and I am envious.

      September 15, 2011 at 2:41 am |
  8. SJ

    Its very sad to see something like this happen. The authorities should have worked with the Amish people to find a suitable alternative instead of jailing them.

    September 15, 2011 at 1:47 am |
    • Scott

      You would think.

      September 15, 2011 at 1:55 am |
    • Luigi

      Which authorities?

      September 15, 2011 at 2:00 am |
  9. Traveler

    Oh, and what about the Amish horses – the horrors they live through! Pounding out as many as 50 miles a day on asphalt roads – and when they are burned out it is off to the slaughter house with you. What a life! God bless the horses.

    September 15, 2011 at 1:22 am |
    • 3N1Amen

      God bless the Amish. The horses are doing just fine. Go back in history...horses have been used for transportation for hundreds of years.

      September 15, 2011 at 1:33 am |
    • CJA

      Maybe horses like it. They think "this is what I was born to do" Of course that can't think such complex ideas but they were bred to have a temperament for this kind of thing. For centuries horse unsuited to this were not bred or maybe even killed and eaten. Modern horses are the result of centuries of selective breeding.

      September 15, 2011 at 2:14 am |
    • jimtanker

      I think what Traveler is talking about is the horses walking on roads. There were not bred to walk on roads. Maybe haulinlg heavy loads and walking long distances but not on paved roads.

      September 15, 2011 at 2:18 am |
  10. RobbD

    The Amish seem like reasonable people...yet, they do not see the risk and danger that they pose to others.

    September 15, 2011 at 1:18 am |
    • 3N1Amen

      No, people need to drive slower and be respectful. Most everyone nowadays are in a hurry. Go back to the time when there were no cars/trucks, etc. Life was simple and not stressful.
      Slow down and enjoy the simple life...like the Amish.

      September 15, 2011 at 1:32 am |
    • Luigi

      Maybe someone should ask them. I wish CNN would. The press is supposed to be the proxy for the people. That's why they get press passes, after all. Don't see it happening though.

      September 15, 2011 at 1:33 am |
    • Luigi

      3N1Amen - why do people **need** to drive more slowly?

      If we went back to a time of no trucks or cars, we wouldn't have computers. Yet, you are using a computer. Go figure.

      September 15, 2011 at 1:41 am |
    • @Luigi

      Actually if you think about it, the internet allows you to work from home... therefore you dont NEED a car, OR a horse and buggy.. if your business is working just fine online, working at the speed of impulses... who cares if you are still using a horse and buggy to pick up your groceries... or using a bicycle? Millions of New Yorkers do not own a car, and get along just fine. Dont put BS arguments up on here.

      September 15, 2011 at 2:02 am |
    • Luigi

      Yea, I got the BS argument. Let's look at yours.

      "Actually if you think about it, the internet allows you to work from home... therefore you dont NEED a car, OR a horse and buggy.." That would only be true for people who could work at home using the Internet and didn't need a vehicle for something else. There are lots of people who can't do their work at home. There are people who need to go other places, like a hospital (where people aren't working at home).

      "if your business is working just fine online, working at the speed of impulses... who cares if you are still using a horse and buggy to pick up your groceries... or using a bicycle?" And what if your business is not working just fine online.

      "Millions of New Yorkers do not own a car, and get along just fine." First, not everyone lives in NY. Second, how do you propose to supply the present population of NYC using only horses, buggies and bicycles?

      Your argument doesn't even pass validity tests.

      Your turn. Identify how my statements (2nd and 3rd sentences) don't pass validity testing?

      September 15, 2011 at 2:27 am |
  11. Shaneeda Quit

    If the Swartzentruber Amish believe such symbols indicate the "user no longer trusts fully in God," then perhaps they should use it for the DRIVER who no longer trusts fully in God!

    September 15, 2011 at 1:16 am |
  12. Edumacated

    Sound like a bunch of whiney bi&%#es to me

    September 15, 2011 at 1:16 am |
    • steak499

      I take it you are referring to the idiot(s) that issued the citation? The triangle is a symbol, just as the reflective tape is. Leave the Amish alone...they aren't hurting you.

      September 15, 2011 at 1:48 am |
    • vivian m

      Maybe if you were actually EDUCATED you could at least see their side of things. Our society has become nothing more than 300,000,000 blind conformists. If someone does things differently, they must be insane. Right?

      September 15, 2011 at 2:05 am |
  13. lance corporal

    God is not offended by bright colors.... look at creation. my great grandparents where amish and I'm glad they left!
    there are laws, ordinances and requirements I don't agree with and I wish the state/county/city would bend over backwards for me and bend the rules to fit my liking, I've tried, they won't. try to drive your car illegally equipped, see what happens......
    in other areas amish follow the law, these folks are a fanatical exception, follow the rules or stay off the road, pretty simple

    September 15, 2011 at 1:12 am |
  14. carla

    SKS, that was my thought too. Fine, don't use it but don't drive either. There are laws we all don't like. What if I said I wasn't going to stop at a red light because it was too flashy. Sorry, it won't cut it. I really do respect their religious freedoms, but they need to respect the law.

    September 15, 2011 at 12:53 am |
  15. Joe here in Colorado

    What kind of a moron do you have to be to not be able to realize that the vehicle in front of you is moving slowly?

    September 15, 2011 at 12:52 am |
    • Luigi

      Joe, how about a "moron" with one eye?

      September 15, 2011 at 1:08 am |
    • Gezellig

      Yeah, and why don't we also get rid of brake lights on the back of cars? I mean, what kind of moron do you have to be to not realize a car in front of you is slowing down or stopped?

      September 15, 2011 at 1:09 am |
    • lance corporal

      happens all the time, it is a known danger. it's also simple common sense, what kind of a moron wouldn't know that?

      September 15, 2011 at 1:14 am |
    • Doug504

      Black buggy with no markings doing 3 mph at 11 pm. You are doing 35 mph. I'm sure you'd notice the buggy moving slowly before you smashed into it.

      The fact is that slow moving vehicles of any kind are likely to be involved in accidents.

      September 15, 2011 at 1:27 am |
    • AV Dave

      What kind of a moron do you need to be to see that the vehicle is driving slowly? A moron driving at night in an area with no street lights (remember we're in Amish country), right behind a black buggy, a black horse, and a man wearing black clothing. Poor moron. He should be able to see the black object in the pitch black with no reflective triangles.

      September 15, 2011 at 1:45 am |
  16. Gezellig

    Reflective tape would help you see a vehicle, but it is one thing to see a vehicle sooner, and another to immediately realize it is a slow moving vehicle. Remember, using the roadway is a privilege, not a right. No one is requiring them to use triangles; they only need to use them as a condition of driving a slow moving vehicle on the roadways.

    Since they are opposed to triangles, do they also get to ignore yield signs? Since they are opposed to bright colors, can they hang a long ladder out of their buggy and not have to tie a red flag to it?

    Hey, since I believe in the Trinity, do I get to put the triangle symbol on my fast moving car, as a freedom of religion issue? Remember when Jerry Falwell rejected a Teletubby in part because he felt one of them was gay partially due to the triangle it wore? Can someone refuse to put a triangle on the back of their tractor because they feel it is gay, and then endanger people by slowly driving it down the highway?

    Defending freedom of religion is vital, but allowing a religion to endanger people’s lives exercising a privilege because they are opposed to triangles? Come on….

    September 15, 2011 at 12:48 am |
  17. mickey1313

    People need to remember that the 1st amendment gives you the right to believe what you want, it does not allow you to ignore laws. All thiests are hurting this nation simply by being here.

    September 15, 2011 at 12:47 am |
    • Luigi

      All theists? How about George Washington Carver? OK, he's dead but I'd like you to address that example.

      September 15, 2011 at 1:06 am |
    • lance corporal

      proof that you don't need to be a theist to be hateful and stoooopid, really bad comment, your not helping!

      September 15, 2011 at 1:17 am |
  18. MatttTx

    The purpose of the Slow Moving Vehicle Triangle is not only to make the vehicle more visible. That particular symbol conveys a specific meaning. It lets motorists know that the vehicle in front of them is traveling less than 25 mph. Reflective tape does not let people know that. Their refusal to use it creates an unnecessary safety risk.

    September 15, 2011 at 12:44 am |
    • Joe here in Colorado

      Guaranteed that 90% of drivers do not know that. I didn't, and I'm a smart guy and a good driver.

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

      You correctly answered the question I asked Tom a while back. Well done.

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

      Joe, any idea why you didn't know? When I took Driver's Ed, this was one of the primary signs we had to learn. Did you take driver's ed?

      September 15, 2011 at 12:53 am |
  19. Luigi

    Beefburger, how can anyone have absolute control over being distracted? Sure, a driver can control if he's eating, talking on a phone, fiddling with the radio, etc. What about distractions originating from outside the car?

    September 15, 2011 at 12:39 am |
  20. SKS

    If Amish people find the orange triangles offensive, that's fine. I support their right to not have them on their carriages. However, they will have to stay off of public roads in the state of Kentucky.

    September 15, 2011 at 12:39 am |
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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.