Swartzentruber Amish Men In Kentucky Refuse To Back Down In Religious Freedom Issue

Posted: January 13, 2012 in criminal justice system

I have followed the case of the Amish men in Mayfield, Graves County Kentucky, in the news, since 2008. I was in jail in neighboring McCracken County when their case aired. More than half a dozen Amish men of the Swartzentruber Amish sect had been stopped and cited for not displaying a large, orange reflective triangle on the back of their horse-drawn buggies.

The men took a stand, refusing to display the symbol because of its offensive nature, refusing to plead guilty to any violations, and refusing to pay associated costs and fees. Graves County became hopping mad and pre-ordered dark grey jail outfits in eager anticipation of locking up the Amish.

The men are not disinterested in road safety, and they have offered reflective tape alternatives to the orange triangle. Such alternatives have been accepted in other states.

The Swartzentruber Amish live completely off the United States Electricity Grid (‘off the grid’). They also live without plumbing or appliances.

Here is some more information about the Swartzentruber Amish from wiki:

It is suggested that the Swartzentrubers see an interest in appearance as too worldly. Their farms can be identified by dirt drives and surrounding roads, while most roads of the Old Order contain either gravel or paving to keep out the mud. The houses and outbuildings of the Swartzentruber often sport tin roofs. The clothing differs from that of the other Old Order Amish in subtle ways: all colors are dark and somber rather than the bright blues and mauves; more common is navy, dark burgundy, and even gray. Men frequently wear a single suspender to avoid what is seen as the pride of two. The dresses of the women, rather than reaching mid-calf, usually reach to the top of the shoes. The tack on the horses and buggies is often all black, rather than brown leather.

Swartzentruber Amish use reflective tape on the back of their buggies, in place of bright triangular slow moving signs for road travel, which they regard as too worldly. These buggies will also sport lanterns, rather than battery-operated lights, or reflectors.[5] The lanterns are also often staggered, one side slightly higher than the other, so as not to appear like the tail lights of a vehicle. There have been several court cases across the country where the state and county challenged the local Swartzentruber group to use the regulation orange triangle. So far, even as far as the federal Supreme Court, the Amish have prevailed, although statistics suggest that in areas where these groups exist, accidents involving buggies are more prevalent.

On September 13, 2011, nine Old Order Swartzentruber men were jailed for not paying a fine for refusing to display an orange reflective triangle on their horse-drawn carriages.[6]

Of interest also is that this sect speaks a dialect of German called Pennsylvania German.

The Amish case is back in the news today because some of the men are again facing jail time. It is a religious persecution case impinging on freedom of religion, as well as an international news story and a Graves County Kentucky spitting contest. The only data about whether or not a gigantic orange sign contributes to road safety better than alternatives such as lanterns and tape, was produced by Penn State in 2001. Jacob Gingrich, who is taken away from his twelve children every time he is jailed, cites this study, that suggests no change in safety with the orange triangle display.

I tried searching for some hard data today, on the orange triangle. I had the misfortune of stumbling into a Fox News article, basically hating on the Amish. Fox news backs their claim with one interview from one man, also an Amish-hater and letter-writer.

I thought, “Okay. I will give Fox News a chance.” I clicked on their link labeled and double underlined “Swartzentruber Amish.” I was taken to a “URL Not Found” page that my virus program had apparently blocked, to a site called “the shopping hornet dot com.” Fuck you, Fox News.

I believe that if the government is going to impinge on the freedom of religion for the protection of the public, there must be some rational, evidence-based connection between the law and some situation going on. There must be some data that shows that the law does, in fact, protect public safety. That does not include the opinions of a few residents of Mayfield, Kentucky, walking around a parking lot talking about their hateful letter-writing campaign.

There must be some data available, because other states have adopted alternative lighting options. Surely those courts based their decisions on some rational available data. Perhaps Kentucky can follow suit, and put an end to picking on a specific sect of Amish with repeated arrests that tie up the courts and waste everyone’s time.

  1. Hat Tip mayfieldartist for the YouTube video.

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