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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. My Three Robbing Republi-Cons

    If you are driving a car and cannot see a Horse and Buggy in the daylight you should not be driving a car period!
    I'm sure if you can see a much smaller Bicycle with a 80 pound child riding on it without a Triangle, you can see a freaking 500 pound Horse with a buggy bigger than some peoples cars.

    So how many Amish Buggies vs car accidents have you readers heard about? These people stay to themselves and try very hard not to bother outsiders. LEAVE THEM THE F......X ALONE!

    September 15, 2011 at 5:25 am |
    • Sun

      You get 5 stars for the best comment on this article.Kudos!

      September 15, 2011 at 8:34 am |
    • MO

      My husband is a state trooper. He just worked an car vs. buggy accident yesterday. Happens all the time, dude. And they don't always keeps to themselves. They can be pretty pesky neighbors. Clearly you don't actually know any Amish.

      September 15, 2011 at 9:18 am |
  2. yakman2

    Religious freedom to practice your faith does not supercede the law.....Separation of church and state..? How about a compromise of a n orange cross on the buggy....They have to compromise with the cross and we get reflective....otherwise jail time....or conficate the vehicles....Hit them in their pockets...Believe me the Amish understand MONEY!!!

    September 15, 2011 at 5:19 am |
  3. John

    While many of you are correct in the fact that, yes, they are in violation of the law, I believe the strict adherence to this law is a bit impractical. What the State of KY should do is look at the INTENT of the law. A slow moving vehicle needs to be identifiable in low light situations. There are scores of different types of markings that can do this. I do not see why it must be an orange triangle. A simple addition to the law that lists a number of possible alternatives would still meet the intent.

    September 15, 2011 at 5:09 am |
    • Charlie

      I wonder if they need them on Bicycles too as they are slow moving vehicles.

      September 15, 2011 at 5:22 am |
    • Tracy

      Hey, Thats not a bad idea. I think you are onto something...If they are so bent out of shape about the color, perhaps there is some other color and shape they would agree to. Frankly they remind me of goth kids a little. Style is everything.

      September 15, 2011 at 5:25 am |
    • John

      In response to the bicycle comment, I am not familiar with the laws of KY. However, almost every state has bicycle specific laws. Where I live, it actually has to do with weight. Because bicycles are under a certain weight they are considered a piece of sporting goods equipment and do not require certain features that other forms of transportation do.

      September 15, 2011 at 5:42 am |
  4. Name*Chedar

    Does anybody know if they can deport these group back to the countries where their forefather came from. That should work. This I'd America and everybody follow the law of the land. By the way, tell those Amish safety first before the holy trinity.

    September 15, 2011 at 4:28 am |
    • Believer

      So our laws are always correct? Millions of slaves would have disagreed with you in the 1800's. Get a grip. These are decent law abiding citizens, who are complying with the intent of the law not the letter. I would vastly prefer they take away a persons driving privileges for life if they were caught drunk driving. Besides, they are serving their time in jail. I have a feeling they are willing to do this every time they are arrested until the county gets tired of the financial drain.

      September 15, 2011 at 5:18 am |
  5. George

    They couldn't use a white reflector in a different pattern? "Bored bored bored! How can we go chill out somewhere for a few days and still seem really Amish when we get back?" "Hang on, those mandatory buggy reflectors are pretty vibrant and hey, if you squint it sort of looks like the Catholic concept of God" "JAILHOUSE ROCK!!!"

    September 15, 2011 at 4:19 am |
  6. American Rebel

    Easier solution... take away their buggies. If they continue to bring more out then confiscate those. If the vehicle is not up to state law they should not be allowed to drive. Plain and simple. Their religious beliefs stay with them at home and do not govern outside or into state law. End.

    September 15, 2011 at 4:15 am |
    • JTO

      So apparently this "rebel" believes in staunch adherence to any law regardless of intent. Very rebellious of you.

      September 15, 2011 at 5:18 am |
  7. Karen Palen

    Science flies you to the moon, Religion flies you into buildings!

    September 15, 2011 at 3:34 am |
  8. Slash

    Religious freedom ends the instant that it begins to intrude on public safety. You have a right to be an idiot, but you do not have a right to risk other people's lives with your idiocy.

    September 15, 2011 at 3:28 am |
    • JTO

      So reflective tape and light markers (lanterns) don't let you know there's something in the road? Are you saying you slow down for orange triangles but not red octagons?

      September 15, 2011 at 5:21 am |
  9. Namish

    If KY can find an equally functional symbol acceptable to the Amish, and KY wants to, then do that. Otherwise forget jail, just confiscate the unmarked buggies if they use them on public roads.

    September 15, 2011 at 3:16 am |
  10. George

    One night driving through a Jewish neighborhood, I almost ran down two men dressed tin the traditional black in two separate instances. Even though the area was well lit, being dressed in black the blended in the background. I was on top of them before I even saw them. I sent a letter to the local Jewish Community center explaining the situation and suggested that perhaps they could pass out flashlights orange cones at cost as a community service. The advice was ignored.

    I just hope it doesn't take a kid being killed before they do something.

    An Amish buggy is the same way at night. Without a reflector (I will not suggest lights), a car could be on top of it before the driver even knew they were there. This could not only possibly kill the occupants of the buggy, it could kill the driver of the car.

    Finally, thirty years ago I had a friend who was a brilliant mathematician, but lacked any common sense. He was riding a long a fairly lit major road in Gainsville, Florida. He was wearing a black trench coat, black hat, riding a black bike on a moonless night, without lights and a reflector; just like a black Amish buggy. To make a long story short, he was hit by a truck and died six hours later.

    Please use the reflectors, they could save your life.

    September 15, 2011 at 3:01 am |
  11. Rusty Shackleford

    Amish dont want to impose on their relgious beliefs, whaaaaaaaat? I used to live next to an amish community. The ones that would speak ther own old dialec/language (old german/polish whatever). They would all car pool into a freakn van frequently, use chainsaws to cut logs, and collect deposit on cans and bottles we have to pay for. Granted this is probably a differnt sec, but come on!

    September 15, 2011 at 3:00 am |
  12. Jedgie

    Considering the fact that the Amish do not pay taxes to build/maintain the roads and the fact that the roads are owned by the state/county/township, it is my BELIEF that they should follow the rules of the owner. So if you do not want to follow the traffic laws either pay the fine or don't use the roadway system.

    September 15, 2011 at 2:56 am |
    • jrice

      Why do you think they don't pay taxes? I'm sure if they make enough money to have to pay taxes, they probably do. Besides that only about half of Americans pay taxes anyway.

      September 15, 2011 at 3:12 am |
    • Red State

      The average home has 2.28 cars. These cars run on gas. Gas is taxed. This tax is used to build roads. Every one who rides a bus buys a ticket. Fuel cost is incorporated into the price of the ticket. Therefore every one in the USofA pays taxes that pays for the roads. Also, when tax season is here and I don't have the money to pay the IRS I don't have to? Joyous!

      September 15, 2011 at 3:42 am |
  13. JJohnson

    Aren't bicycles slow moving vehicles?

    September 15, 2011 at 2:51 am |
  14. Richard

    Easy solution to the problem. Let them obey the law or go back to jail on weekends.

    September 15, 2011 at 2:49 am |
    • dirk

      1st bicycles have reflectors usually installed by the manufacturer. 2nd they are usually not being ridden down the highway in the parking lane. 3rd I'm not sure of the definition of slow moving, but I've seen people easily go 25-30mph especially downhill on a bicycle. A horse and buggy setup would be much slower than that.

      September 15, 2011 at 3:03 am |
  15. malcholic

    These amish are stupid. So much wrong in this story. they said they trust in god so they don't need this safety symbol, yet one the the amish decided to paid the fine so he can take care of his cerebral palsy kid...where is the trust in god? then they said they don't like the triangle symbol, yet the roof of their houses are triangle...where's the logic in that? they said they hate bright color, yet they cultivate and eat colorful fruits (apple, oranges, berries), the flower around them are loud color, their blood are bright red...so i guess they should not eat color fruits, burn all the flower, and drain their own blood away. See how stupid they become. LOL

    September 15, 2011 at 2:46 am |
    • dirk

      Fine was paid by a non-amish person from a nearby community who knew his son had cerebral palsy.

      September 15, 2011 at 2:55 am |
    • Rina

      what a stupid comment. Blood is red? Bright fruits? that's like the perfect example of God and nature, which I'm sure they appreciate even more when it stands out among grey and black that they wear.

      September 15, 2011 at 4:06 am |
  16. Harvey

    I have the utmost respect for the Amish and their faith in God. Please consider God gave man the intellect to invent life saving devices. Please use them. Not doing so reminds me of a story.

    A man was caught on the roof of his house during a raging flood and he prayed to God, "Please save me". Soon a boat came by with two guys in it and they said, jump in and you will be saved. The man refused saying, "I have faith in God, He will save me". As there were others to rescue, the boat left.

    Next a helicopter flew by and dropped the man a ladder, the pilot called out, "Climb up the ladder and we will fly you to safety". The man refused saying, "I have faith in God, He will save me".

    Well, the water rose and the man drowned. While standing before God he asked, "Lord I payed for you to save me and you let me drown". The Lord replyed, "You idiot, I sent you two guys in a boat and a helicopter".

    Bottom line, maintain your faith in the Lord, but use the technology available that can save your lives. Besides, does not Mathew 4:7 state, "Jesus responded, 'The Scriptures also say, 'You must not test the LORD your God.'" (New Living Translation 2007)?

    September 15, 2011 at 2:42 am |
    • George

      Well put

      September 15, 2011 at 3:05 am |
    • lasvegasazguy

      Really please leave your religious babble and quotes from a book that speaks of lies and hatred to yourself.

      September 15, 2011 at 6:07 am |
  17. S1N

    If they are providing a feasible alternative to the state mandated triangle, which they are in the form of reflective plates and reflective tape, what's the problem? They can be seen and positively identified as a buggy from a distance. I seriously doubt anyone is going to think they'll be pushing 75+ MPH any time soon.

    September 15, 2011 at 2:42 am |
    • Thomas

      Get your facts straight. It's not a question if "feasible alternative"s were being used, the issue is they are insisting on using alternative that are not legal. The speed of the buggies is slow in relation to other moving traffic which is why the Amish are required to use the triangles and not other autos. I believe in most states slow moving farm vehicles have the same or similar requirements.

      September 15, 2011 at 3:01 am |
  18. Gerald

    You have to be kidding me... Let those guys out now!

    September 15, 2011 at 2:36 am |
  19. Luposian

    Unfortunately, there is no easy answer. You impinge upon religious freedom, by requiring the triangle, to prevent an accident, yet how else do you make it easy to identify them at a distance as moving a certain speed? How about a reflective sign that reads "Amish slow moving vehicle" or something? Anyone that can read can see it and knows what it means... unless they don't read/speak English... hmm.

    I think setting a curfew would be the simplest solution. No Amish are allowed to be on the road after dark, without the reflector. Something has gotta work.

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

      The Amish don't drive after the sun sets in fact in most cases they don't leave their houses after the sun sets. There's really absolutely no need for even the reflective tape.

      September 15, 2011 at 2:54 am |
    • Christopher H Lee

      Easy answer: We'll be happy to allow you to not abide by our laws if you can get God to come into the precinct and sign a waiver.

      September 15, 2011 at 3:18 am |
    • Thomas

      Umm Matthew, if the Amish didn't drive after dark then why do they have lanterns? They do drive after dark in fact.

      September 15, 2011 at 3:22 am |
  20. Brain

    Easy solution to this problem. The Amish need to come up with a reflector that is not offensive to them (possibly removing the top of the triangle) and submit it for approval, since it is not to different from a triangle, there should not be a problem.

    September 15, 2011 at 2:31 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.