Saloma Miller Furlong
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Amish Man Suing Federal Government

In my home community in Ohio, I was taught that you are either Amish or not — there simply is no in between. One could not pick and choose which of the rules or traditions to follow and which ones to ignore.

Amish have a long memory for the martyrdom that their ancestors endured in the Old Country. We were taught, in the ways of our ancestors, to turn the other cheek when someone smites us — literally and figuratively. Lawsuits were out of the question, for any real or perceived wrongs committed against us, and the message of not using force to defend ourselves was internalized from a young age.

So when I read a report about an Amish man who is suing the federal government when he was prohibited from buying a gun for self-defense purposes because he refused to present photo identification, I was flabbergasted. Andrew Hertzler from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, claims the photo I.D. requirement violates his religious freedom and his constitutional right to possess a firearm.

Why is Andrew Hertzler willing to ignore two important tenets of the Amish faith that teach against suing and against self-defense with a firearm — to defend a minor tenet — that of not posing for photographs? Apparently he believes that rebelling against the government is easier than rebelling against the Amish rule that forbids posing for photographs. There is actually a much easier solution that doesn’t involve other people — he could leave the community that forbids the photo ID and buy a gun. Everyone has to make choices in life, and sometimes one choice precludes another.

I wonder if Hertzler has considered the ramifications of winning this lawsuit. The Amish in Lancaster are very attuned to public perception because so many of them are thriving on the tourist business. The mostly-positive perception of the Amish in the mainstream culture can change and I would assert will change if they squander the public goodwill by asking for exemptions that would give them special rights because it will breed resentment in those who are excluded.

If Amish people continue to ask for exemptions, I hope they do so for reasons far more important than owning a firearm. I have no way of knowing whether Hertzler’s lawsuit is the prevailing attitude among Amish men (which would signify that the Amish are assimilating by adopting the ideals of individual rights of mainstream society), or if he is acting on his own.

I have long asserted that the Amish Mafia is absurd, with hardly a shred of truth in this so-called “reality” television show. However, if Amish men are allowed to buy firearms without showing a photo ID, it will be harder to make such an assertion. I know how wrong-doing is often covered up in this insular culture, and that mental illness and sociopaths are just as prevalent in Amish society as in the mainstream culture. Such an exemption would not be a good thing for the people in the culture because they have no way of dealing with deviant behavior.

The values that the Amish have practiced for centuries serve as a societal conscience that cause others to examine their own values. It’s true that Amish individuals often fall short of the goodness many people perceive them to have. However, if the Amish were to assimilate into the mainstream culture, we would lose an important link to our past — a vestige of a time when community values were more important than individual desires. It is an antidote to the hyper-individualistic culture that most people experience daily.

I’m hoping Hertzler’s bishop did not know he was filing this suit. If his community works the way it used to in my original community, he will have Hertzler quietly withdraw the lawsuit and the public will hear no more about it.

Andrew Hertzler needs to decide if he is Amish or not. If he truly values the Amish ways, he will not sue, nor will he buy a gun for self-defense. The photo ID becomes a moot point.

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Photo by Saloma Furlong, near Cashton, Wisconsin

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