Saloma Miller Furlong
Author and Speaker

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Amish Men Jailed

Erik Wesner has sparked an interesting discussion on his blog about ten Amish men who were jailed in Kentucky for refusing to display a Slow-Moving-Vehicle triangle on their buggies. Rather than recount all about that here, I suggest you click over to Amish America and learn more about it.

You can also read the Associated Press news article about the case.

As the Amish often do, they are in this case having us examine our own values by bringing this issue to the attention of the general public. By carefully considering which technologies they can accommodate and still maintain their culture, the Amish effectively determine what is essential to their lifestyle, while the rest of the world seems to be on a headlong pursuit of the latest fashions and technologies.

It varies a great deal from one community to the next about which technologies the Amish will adopt and which they will shun. From what I know about this group of Schwartzentrubers in Kentucky, they are particularly strict and allow no technologies we would call modern. Because this issue has been ongoing, I have to question who is at the helm — to get this kind of stubborn adherence to the Ordnung (Amish church rules), there has to be someone in charge who is particularly stubborn and stalwart about the old ways. I have to wonder if the Amish men who are being jailed would resist to this extent of their own convictions, or are they afraid of the consequences from within their own group if they comply to the safety laws imposed by the “English” world? I simply don’t know, but I have experienced enough Amish dynamics to know that this is a possibility.

The Amish are a martyr culture. The preachers would often ask: “If we were being persecuted for our faith the way our ancestors were, would we meet the challenge?” They claimed that because we weren’t be tested, we really didn’t know. It felt to me that these preachers were close to inviting martyrdom, so that they could test their faith. I wonder whether the men who are going to jail over this seemingly trivial issue have this in mind when they refuse to comply, by displaying the triangle, by offering a compromise of how they will make their buggies more visible at night, or by paying the fines imposed by noncompliance. It seems they are trying to take this issue that most people would consider a safety issue and pit it against their religious “convictions.”

If this is the impetus behind the noncompliance then it seems if the courts push the issue, they are literally playing into the hands of the Amish men.

So what is the alternative? The Amish seem to be challenging us to examine our own values — about safety, about tolerance, and about religious beliefs.

I used my training in ethics and philosophy to distill this down to a question, and this is what I came up with: Should religious groups be exempt from the rules of the road?

What do you think?


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