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. jon Smith

    I have toured Kentucky by bicycle. Pretty slow moving vehicle. I was never required to have an orange triangle on the back of my bike.

    September 15, 2011 at 9:03 am |
    • Don

      Bicycles aren the exception to slow moving vehicle rules, probably because they take up much less of the road.

      September 15, 2011 at 9:13 am |
  2. Lee

    It's refreshing to see a group of people that are so peaceful in these times. If the reflective tape they are using already is not good enough for whatever reason, I'm sure a reasonable solution can be met by all parties.

    September 15, 2011 at 9:02 am |
  3. William Demuth

    Ok. The orange triangle offends them?

    Perhaps a compromise

    What about a Flame Red Pentagram?

    A bright Green Star and Crescent?

    Or perhaps a hot pink Hammer and Sickle?

    September 15, 2011 at 9:02 am |
    • Agns Beaverhousen

      Maybe wrap the entire buggy including the horses with reflective duct tape?

      September 15, 2011 at 9:09 am |
  4. EN

    It is a good coincidence that the chosen safety feature of an orange triangle is chosen for the religious group to place on their buggies. I would think that God would expect us and the Amish to use wisdom and to care for our families. I've lived around Amish families in PA and have been thankful for their use of reflective symbols to try to spot them on the roads in dark weather. If they believe in the trinity so to speak and have concern for their families, then they should put the orange reflective triangles on their buggies as soon as possible. Actually the more, the better to prevent unnecessary traffic accidents. Cars have headlights and taillights. If they won't attach the safety reflectors to the black buggies, they probably shouldn't be permitted to operate them during hours of darkness.

    September 15, 2011 at 8:59 am |
  5. JimK

    This is how a cult deliberately tags itself for extinction. "We drive black, horse-drawn buggies on busy streets. We refuse to do anything that might make us more visible to the pickup truck that's about to rear-end us." Great idea. God will protect you, because He's got nothing better to do than shield you from your own stupidity.

    September 15, 2011 at 8:55 am |
    • Kazanti

      You are so right if only they used reflective tape or lanterns and reflective lights or all 3 to at least try and comply with the law... oh wait I actually read before typing and they do all 3.

      September 15, 2011 at 9:07 am |
    • Aaron

      Shield them from their own stupidity? Seems to me that if everyone were more like the Amish, we'd have a cleaner environment, safer neighborhoods, and a stronger sense of community. Not everyone who choses to live simply is simple. Just like technology and science do not make you wise.

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

    I worship a British God, so I intend to drive on the left from now on.

    September 15, 2011 at 8:54 am |
    • JimK

      Good one!

      September 15, 2011 at 8:56 am |
    • Jean

      I like

      September 15, 2011 at 9:04 am |
  7. WWRRD

    Good Greif,

    It's not like they are refusing to use any safety material. "High Quality" reflective tape is a perfectly suitable accomodation to their beliefs. I doubt these people are a threat to society. Leave them alone.

    September 15, 2011 at 8:54 am |
    • Lee

      WWRD – my thoughts exactly.

      September 15, 2011 at 9:08 am |
  8. TheButcher

    It's amazing to read all these comments and even find one person who would happily smash your freedom into the ground to serve their own needs. You have the right not to have a belief system. That's a choice too. One that can be taken away. So regardless of what you believe, be glad that it's your choice to make. Freedom is greater than your personal views.

    September 15, 2011 at 8:54 am |
  9. Amit-Atlanta-USA

    If using those safety triangles goes against their strict Amish beliefs, my question is does it not hurt their beliefs to ply on a paved, metalled road that stupid modern man built? Can't they use the dirt tracks instead?

    September 15, 2011 at 8:54 am |
    • Amit-Atlanta-USA

      BTW, I am an admirer of the Amish people, specifically on how they manage to co-exist keeping their belief systems intact while living in the midst of the modern man. I must also admit that I know precious little about them, living here in the South.

      September 15, 2011 at 9:00 am |
    • Bobs your uncle

      In the northeast there arent a lot of "dirt tracks" around for them to drive on. Its a very heavily developed area of the country. I live in Lancaster PA (no dirt roads) and they will make the shoulder of the road wider if its possible to do so to accommodate buggies. The majority of the amish here accept the orange triangle, and some even have flashing lights and reflectors. Each church has its own rules about it. Some are more forgiving than others.

      September 15, 2011 at 9:10 am |
  10. Max

    I don't get this......???!!!!!! The people have a problem with the triangular symbol.....Then damn it!!!! F$%k%_ng give them another shape!! We do not all have to be "Masons"

    September 15, 2011 at 8:53 am |
    • Bobs your uncle

      Its a road safety device, not a masonic symbol. Its like the one tractor trailers put down when they break down.

      September 15, 2011 at 9:12 am |
  11. programer1951

    The orange triangle indicates slow moving vehicle true! However if you look at the buggy in the picture or if you have driven in Amish Country you will usually see reflectors on their buggies. And I have very seldom seen a buggy on a road that has 55mph or greater speed limits. And looking at the buggy in the video it appears to have actual led taillight but whether they are working is unknown. But if they have reflectors or if they use Reflecting tape I am sure you can see the buggy day or night and is mentioned earlier what about bicycles?

    September 15, 2011 at 8:52 am |
  12. uddi smith

    there are no more important things to do in Kentucky then putting these people in jail; guess no drug trafficking, murders, fraud, assaults, robberies, thefts etc left in Kentucky? sometimes laws just need to be fixed and cleaned up, like this law that states such a demand; it is not like they go on the highway, now isn't it? and it is not like they go in the middle of the night into big cities?
    leave them alone and let them practice their faith

    September 15, 2011 at 8:52 am |
    • beeman

      What happens when a vehicle runs into the back of them and people die. Religous beliefs should be kept in the compund not out in the real world

      September 15, 2011 at 8:54 am |
    • Jamison

      your forgetting we have freedom of religion in this country, their religion doesnt allow this, therefore we should respect it. If they already have circular reflectors on the buggies why do they need these giant triangular signs.

      September 15, 2011 at 9:01 am |
    • JC


      September 15, 2011 at 9:18 am |
  13. danfromsac

    If they don't want to use the safety triangle, then they should not be allowed to be on the road. What if another group decides that using license plates or having their picture on a driver's license somehow violates their religious beliefs? Should we allow them to continue using our streets and highways? The law is the law and it is their to protect both the buggy occupants and the passengers of other vehicles.

    September 15, 2011 at 8:52 am |
  14. Jon

    Only the politicians and the rich are above the law. I hope that these reckless hooligans have learned their lesson!

    September 15, 2011 at 8:50 am |
    • Lee

      hooligans, Jon, really?

      September 15, 2011 at 9:13 am |
  15. Tea Party Express

    If you want to use the roads, obey the rules.

    My religion says it's OK to murder people as long as it lowers my taxes... but they would still waste tax dollars chasing us down if we did that.

    September 15, 2011 at 8:49 am |
    • Tea Party Express

      So what happened to Freedom of Religion? This is why the Tea Party and it's supporters are a bunch of self-serving cow like wackos. I don't support anything that violates the laws of the land - including freedom of religion. Your comment is offensive and ignorant. Maybe if you lived for something greater then yourself - you could show some compassion.

      September 15, 2011 at 8:58 am |
  16. Phyl

    If I'm not mistaken, up near Lancaster,Pa, they use reflective tape across the back of the buggies. I wonder if there is a difference in this concerning there beliefs??!! I'm a Christian and I have never heard the "triangle" shape refering to the Holy Trinity...I wish these people well but they still should abide by the law as we English do...

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

      Different Amish and Mennonite communities interpret the rules differently. And yeah, while I am sympathetic to religious freedom, ignoring road safety endangers both the buggy-riders and car drivers. Render unto Caesar, and all that.

      September 15, 2011 at 8:55 am |
    • Max

      Hosea 4: 6 (KJV) My people perish from a lack of knowledge.

      You might call yourself a christian, but your eyes are still blinded. There is a lot more than meets the eye and it is only true the Spirit will you understand and see clearly. If interested, start by reading the book "He came to set the captives free" and studying your scriptures more diligently.

      September 15, 2011 at 9:00 am |
    • Max

      only "through" the Spirit. Sorry for the typo.

      September 15, 2011 at 9:02 am |
  17. Joe

    And when one of these chuckleheads gets rear-ended by a truck at night, watch how fast he kicks God to the curb and gets lawyered up to sue in a court of man.

    September 15, 2011 at 8:49 am |
  18. Dan

    if a triangle is offensive, make it a square, but put it on for pity's sake!!

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

      I am offended by squares, it will have to be a circle or octagon, unless there are people out there offended by circle's or octagon's but then that would be just silly to think such a thing.

      September 15, 2011 at 8:57 am |
  19. Lindalou

    How about following the rules of the country you live in. Sorry, this is a rule for the safety of all. Don't want to comply, then stay off of roads built by government dollars that they use.

    September 15, 2011 at 8:48 am |
  20. Paul A. Sudduth II

    And change the color to something less abrasive... how about reflective green?

    anybody remember... life, LIBERTY, and the persuit of happiness?

    September 15, 2011 at 8:45 am |
    • Tea Party Express

      LIFE, liberty and pursuit of happiness.

      Obeying a safety rule is LIFE. That's slightly more important than some magical God telling you that orange triangles are the devil.

      September 15, 2011 at 8:51 am |
    • J.B.B.

      Reply to Paul Sudduth:

      The article also states ... "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."

      September 15, 2011 at 8:52 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.