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. angryersmell

    Putting reflectors on the back of your wagon shows that you "don't fully trust in God"? That's really stupid, even by "religious nut" standards. I trust that "God" gave me the brain in my head so I can make calls like: don't hang out on top of barns during a lightning storm, don't run through the forest wearing nothing but a meat thong, and don't drive big, dark colored, slow-moving vehicles on the road without reflectors. Trust this: if you do these things, your God will punish you.

    September 15, 2011 at 8:44 am |
    • richunix

      Ok....How much more stupidity can one religious group do, in order to be classified as this weeks "Whack-jobs". I mean is there a chance they are capable of breeding? Lets use make-believe as a truth and an excuse.

      Stephen F Roberts: “I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.”

      Atheism is not a religion nor is it a belief.

      September 15, 2011 at 8:51 am |
    • angryersmell

      @richunix – did you reply to the wrong post?

      September 15, 2011 at 8:57 am |
  2. Paul A. Sudduth II

    Give them a square one for goodness sakes.

    September 15, 2011 at 8:43 am |
  3. gonzo

    Dear Amish, if you're reading this...

    Oh wait. Never mind.

    September 15, 2011 at 8:42 am |
  4. Gaddffly

    Bicycle riders ar far worse. They ride on the sidewalk, go against the traffic flow, ignore stop signs, blow through red lights, cut across the road whenever they want and the police don't do a da#nd thing about it. Then when you hit one who was going the wrong way on the sidewalk, they claim it was your fault !!

    September 15, 2011 at 8:40 am |
    • Michelle789

      You went out of your way to hit a bicyclist on the sidewalk? You really DO hate bikers! heh 😛

      September 15, 2011 at 8:45 am |
    • Gaddffly

      No, I don't drive on the sidewalk, Its entering or leaving a parking lot that you hit idiots riding bikes on the sidewalk

      September 15, 2011 at 8:48 am |
    • Jordan

      Just out of curiosity... why are you driving on the sidewalk? lol.

      September 15, 2011 at 8:51 am |
    • 4mercy

      I totally agree. There are a lot of cyclists that should be jail for the number of vehicular laws they break in one bike ride! Leave the Amish alone. They're using safety items. They are good people with no agenda other than their faith.

      September 15, 2011 at 9:03 am |
  5. Palustris

    They sure are a stubborn sort. They just don't get that it's a safety thing for their own good. Just another reason why so many break away from the strict order Amish sect.

    September 15, 2011 at 8:40 am |
    • William Demuth

      I suspect the child abuse might also be a factor

      September 15, 2011 at 8:41 am |
  6. Sun

    What was wrong with the reflective tape? Was it not LOUD enough?

    September 15, 2011 at 8:37 am |
    • Fact

      Amish people are the most forgiving people in this planet, everyone needs to learn from them.

      Am sure they willl be willing to argue on the side of reason and come up with something that keeps them safe and the other drivers safe.

      September 15, 2011 at 8:47 am |
    • Sun

      Tolerance is not saying my way, tolerance is live and let live!

      Let the Amish people devise something that is acceptable to both sides.

      To the Amish-Peace!

      September 15, 2011 at 8:53 am |
  7. PhillyMark

    Dear Amish- Like all of us, you're allowed to have your fantasies, but there are limitations to your fantasies when it comes to interacting with the rest of us. You can't do whatever you want and claim religious freedom. I know this implicitly, because my religion states without ambiguity that clothing is offensive to God, because it covers our natural and intended beauty. Yet, I am not allowed to walk around naked. It was a hard pill to swallow, but finally I accepted the need to modify my practices so that we can have a reasonable society. But when I get home these clothes are coming off! And I will sit with my cat on the couch and read the good book: Playboy.

    September 15, 2011 at 8:32 am |
    • Epidi

      LOL, but the fact is they don't WANT to interact with us if they can help it. They shy away from all things deemed "English". I live in PA and have the utmost respect for these people and their way of life. And I'm Pagan. But, my 'religion' keeps me grounded closer to the earth and nature anyway. Perhaps you'd like to come to a skyclad (clothing optional) ritual? You may be a convert, lol.

      September 15, 2011 at 8:37 am |
    • PhillyMark

      LOL. I'm already a pervert, not sure I want to become a convert, too. 😀

      I live in PA, as well. Nothing against the Amish, but hey, we all gotta get along. I wear clothing...they have an orange triangle on their buggy....

      September 15, 2011 at 8:46 am |
  8. Gene Brady

    An unyielding Justice system does not serve the people does it? It appears to serve something else. You can put a couple of labels there but that is for you to decide. But there is negativity behind this "decision".

    September 15, 2011 at 8:32 am |
    • botwt

      Until you drive up on them in the dark and wreck your car and kill the Amish and his horse, maybe yourself as well. Yeah, unyielding justice system in play here.

      September 15, 2011 at 8:48 am |
  9. William Demuth

    Wow, These guys make Al Queida pale in comparrison

    I hear they even drink un pastureized milk?

    Send in the Predator drones and cruise missiles!

    September 15, 2011 at 8:28 am |
    • Conrad Shull

      Shameless sociopath!

      September 15, 2011 at 8:30 am |
    • William Demuth

      Hey. they get horse crap on my Hummers tires.

      They are the enemy

      We should arm Seal Tean Six with muzzle loaders and put an end to this menace ASAP

      September 15, 2011 at 8:39 am |
    • David

      @Conrad Shull – was the sarcasm that far above your head? Don't get out much, do you?

      September 15, 2011 at 8:41 am |
    • William Demuth

      Thanks David, I was begining to think the world had gone mad!

      September 15, 2011 at 8:45 am |
  10. reddog

    Oh please! Let them use the tape, and stop being such hard-nosed SOB's.

    September 15, 2011 at 8:27 am |
  11. unknown11

    On the one hand you have to respect their beliefs because they generally seem to be wholsome values. However, on the other hand they are just another little subgroup of our society that believes they should enjoy all the freedoms and benefits of our country while only following some of it's laws. That kind of ticks me off.

    September 15, 2011 at 8:27 am |
    • yup

      Very nicely put.

      September 15, 2011 at 8:41 am |
  12. fisk

    How about if my religious beliefs say I dont have to pay for a license plate? Would that be ok? Oh, and my religion says I dont have to stop for red lights. Should the state allow me to do whatever I want just because I claim it in the name of religion? Uhhhh, no!

    Come on guys, i'm pretty sure if god existed, he wouldn't send you to hell just because you have an orange triangle on your buggy....

    September 15, 2011 at 8:27 am |
    • realtalker1

      fisk, using extremes to illustrate your point doesn't really accomplish anything. The fact is that we aren't dealing with the examples you sarcastically point out. We are dealing with a refusal to obey one part of a minor traffic law that quite frankly is a bit too specific to begin with. So long as they are able to make others aware of their location by using a reflector I think that's a pretty good comprimise. There are exceptions and the law should be more flexible in some cases. Not stopping at a red light means that you immediately put others lives in danger and not paying for the roads is simple. you either get ticketed or you don't get to drive on the roads. That's a monetary issue and therefore an apples and oranges comparison.

      September 15, 2011 at 8:39 am |
    • William Demuth


      Many people argue with but a small part of the regulations they call a speed limit.

      The fines for those who do rise to the billions, and the jail time is probably up into the centuries.

      Break the law, pay the price.

      September 15, 2011 at 8:49 am |
    • Todd

      How about if the laws need to put a Christian Cross on your car, or the star of David, perhaps a Nazi Symbol, how about the GOP Elephant or the Democrats Donkey. Or choose whatever symbol that you find the offensive and think of a law were you are forced to display it predominately on your car or suffer fines or jail time.

      It is a case where the Amish were trying to make sure their buggies are road worthy with reflective tape and lamps. It was only the Triangle that they had an issue with.

      September 15, 2011 at 9:11 am |
    • William Demuth


      I have a lisence plate, a VIN, a vehicle inspection, and a registration affixed to my car by the state.

      I suspect MANY are offended by them, ESPECIALLY the inspection sticker.

      Here in New Jersey, it is RIPE with corruption, nepotisim, and incompotece.

      September 15, 2011 at 9:19 am |
  13. unknown11

    I guess that if they cannot use traingles for anything because of their religious beliefs, there are ot a lot of mechanical engineers coming from this little corner of the world.

    Wasn't it during WWII that each county had to send a certain number of men to be soldiers. If your county had a large population of Amish who would refuse to go, all of their non-Amish neighbors had to go. Am I recalling this correctly?

    September 15, 2011 at 8:25 am |
    • dballing

      You're right, there's NOT a lot of mechanical engineers coming out of Amish communities. Have you BEEN to an Amish community? "Technological advancement" is specifically and deliberately shunned.

      September 15, 2011 at 8:34 am |
  14. Charlene

    I agree with Charlie. Bicycles are just as bad, if not, worse.

    September 15, 2011 at 8:24 am |
  15. ColoredMountains

    When the technology fails, the Amish will save the day! They are the very best of Germans and the entire Earthlings.

    September 15, 2011 at 8:13 am |
    • Epidi

      Agreed. With urban development uprooting and buying out the farms, these will be the people we likely turn to for re-education in how to grow your own food and live the simple life without electricity, etc, regardless of wether you share their religious beliefs. They are a wealth of knowledge in all things on how to live when the rest of the worlds tech goes kaput.

      September 15, 2011 at 8:27 am |
    • William Stansifer

      It is probably important to note that most Amish, especially the Swartzies, as we affectionately call them in north central Ohio, pay $0.00 for the roads they're driving on...roads their horses (their shoes, to be exact) tear up

      September 15, 2011 at 8:27 am |
    • Epidi

      Paved roads that did not exist when their farms were established.

      September 15, 2011 at 8:41 am |
    • William Demuth


      And your point is?

      I say we have a celebrity death match with them and some Injuns

      We will see how they wont reject an over under grenade launcer and assault rifle once a few of them taste some arrows~!

      September 15, 2011 at 8:47 am |
  16. hippypoet

    i completely agree with TruthPrevails on this one... driving is a privilege, not a right, thats why its not just assumed that you will drive or even own a car. you must if you wish to drive take a test, you must pass the test and then take a driving test to make sure that your skills at commanding a giant steam roller won't endanger anyone INCLUDING yourself...which if it does, then you lose the right, and learn to take the city bus.

    September 15, 2011 at 8:06 am |
    • dballing

      I'm no expert but there actually does seem to be quite a bit of jurisprudence to the contrary, indicating that the right to use the public roads is in fact a right, not a privilege.

      September 15, 2011 at 8:37 am |
  17. TruthPrevails

    Driving is a privilege, not a right and if these people wish to use public roads that are shared by motorized vehicles, they should be forced to stand under the same laws. A tractor or bulldozer, ect can't drive without an orange sign...why should these people? Laws exist for a reason and apply to EVERYONE regardless of bronze age thinking.

    September 15, 2011 at 6:22 am |
  18. Charlie

    I wonder if Bicycles need these triangles as well. Those people on bicycles are dangerous and a threat to society.

    September 15, 2011 at 5:44 am |
  19. Paul Ronco

    It's unfortunate that religious pillars such as the Amish are so clearly confused as to what their Ordnung means. It does not ban "loud" colors that are intended to save lives any more than it bans "screaming" to alert your child that he or she is about to be hit by a car in the road. As for shunning worldly symbols? Please. The mens' beards are worldly symbols in and of themselves, and this triangle is no more an offense to God than placing a checkmark on a grocery list to symbolize that you've already bought the item. I hope the judge does not cave to these mens' logically unsound religious bullying and enforces the State's commonsense safety rule.

    September 15, 2011 at 5:37 am |
    • mimica


      September 15, 2011 at 8:24 am |
    • Dave

      Are you one of those arm chair experts that knows what these fine people believe in or should believe in. I am on the Amish's side on this one. Look what the government has done with all there laws and permits. Give in a little and the take it all. Time everyone revolts.

      September 15, 2011 at 8:38 am |
    • Mark Kawate

      It is unfortunate that you apparently choose to think you know what is right for everybody, including interpretation of somebody else's religion. As long as it doesn't hurt any other person, there is no cause for ANY person to have to be jailed for what they believe in. Period.

      September 15, 2011 at 8:41 am |
    • anon

      So, the best analogy that I can think of is if South Carolina (where I live) passes a law that requires slow moving vehicles or any vehicle hauling something that sticks out of the back, to put a special orange pentagram on the back. I'm quite certain that the good church going folk here will refuse in large numbers because of the negative connotations to their religious beliefs. Just because the Amish belief is not part of the mainstream does not make it any less important to them.

      They are refusing not on the basis that they don't want to follow the law, but that the law if offensive to their religious belief. Being allowed to put an orange circle, square or other shape besides a triangle would take care of the issue.

      Writing regulations is always a sticky business because it is nearly impossible to foresee all the issues that it might create. When we legislate out any flexibility and hinder or remove the ability of those who enforce the laws to apply their better judgement, then we lose in the long run. There are any one of a hundred ways to make an Amish buggy properly visible by using something other than an orange triangle. If those that have prosecuted these men would stop to think what could be used instead of an orange triangle, then we would never have read such an article on CNN.

      September 15, 2011 at 9:14 am |
  20. coffeebean02

    That's right...! The good people of KY. need those reflective triangles to keep them from running over the Amish buggies after their trips to their illegal moonshine stills... law-abiding citizens, those Kentuckians.

    September 15, 2011 at 5:35 am |
    • dogs rule

      You've hit the nail right on the head! LMAO! What about the gang of teenagers who deliberately broadsided the State Trooper's car about 4 years ago, killing him AND his canine partner????? Brain-damaged from moonshine......

      September 15, 2011 at 8:26 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.