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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9 thoughts on “Amish Men Jailed”

  1. I used to be very, very Amish and a sincere seeker of the real Truth. While I was real Amish I had no personal convitions about any church rules, even so I obeyed them to the T. Even in my strict obedience, I got angry at all these church rules that had to be obeyed or else… I guess I am saying these men are only obeying their holy forfathers or else… they will get heck from the preachers.

  2. Fromwhat I have read, (alot of books)and have learned from the Amish. The Bishop,Preacher, is the head of the rules that he applies. He isnot God, but thinks he rules with an iron fist. I love the Amish for their way of living but could never be controlled by one man.

  3. Hi Saloma, I am new reader to your blog. I live in Ireland (although only for the last 5 years) as I am originally from Germany. Last night there was a piece about that man jailed on the news and even though I have heard about the Amish before I didnt really have a clue -as to my knowledge there are no Amish in Ireland and also never heard anything about them back home in Bavaria- as to who the Amish are, except being a distinctive, traditional group in America. So I started to google and ended up on your blog. For the last 24 hours I was glued to your blog, now Im nearly sad I have read it all as I enjoyed it so much but I’ll go and try to get your book tomorrow. I have always been fascinated with minority groups who live a different lifestyle. Here in Ireland, we have the Irish Traveller, all over Europe we have the Roma and many different subgroups. I suppose what all those group seem to have in common (no matter how different they are) is the close knit community and maybe thats why we tend to romanticise them. Some of your entries strongly reminded me of my Grandparents who are from a very traditional Bavarian catholic village where going to church every Sunday is law , they used to have one bath a week on Saturday night, Sunday being the only day to rest from the hardship. The catholic church, in particular Ireland but also Germany had two difficult years as so many abuse cases came finally to light. And still my grandmothers didn’t want to know or talk about it, because as long as one doesnt speak about it, it didn’t happen..that was the way it always was and for them that wont change as they would probably feel threatened in their beliefs.
    What I have just described would also be applicable to many Irish families. I suppose it just always amazes me how similar we all are despite the different background.
    I know this comment has nothing to do with your question I just wanted to take the opportunity to say hello and say how much I enjoy your blog. I dont know if you have answered that question but Id be really interested in the language: rum springa is something I would understand or translate into jumping about or around (in fact it sounds like something we would say in the Bavarian dialect) most of the other things I wouldn’t have been able to guess without the explanation. Is your language an own language or a dialect? Do you have books written in your language or when you write to your family, would you write in your language? Do your children speak it?
    My best regards and I cant say how much I am looking forward to your book!

  4. Having lived the life you have a unique perspective. The question you pose: Should religious groups be exempt from the rules of the road, is a fair one.

    The road I travel to work is a twisty, windy road through farm country and some mornings I go north by an Amish farm cart going south with three young men heading out–perhaps to work? Mornings are now dark and cars go 50-60 miles per hour along sections of that road. I worry that I will come around a corner and find them smashed up because of this one joker that cannot stand being behind slow cars (let alone a horse drawn cart or buggy).

    They have no triangle sign on the back and poor lighting on the front (we have a local Schwartzentruber community maybe 10 miles from this area of the highway I travel). In New York state, I’m a long way from Kentucky, but I have been following this story. Yes, there are many locals that feel safety should take precedence over religious convictions. I’m not sure if you are the one with the religious convictions it is as clear an issue, or that it is a black and white issue.

    As a nurse, I believe, safety must come first. As respectful as I try to be about another person’s beliefs, I hate to see wasteful deaths. And horse and buggy against car? The car is going to do more damage than be damaged. Nancy

  5. Yeah, really, what Katie said. But to answer the question at hand, religions are exempt from so many things, for instance, taxes. As for the rules of the road, the same rules can’t be applied to a horse and buggy so easily as they can a car. For instance, where I live, a driver must be insured and have their vehicle inspected every few years. I’m not sure any state is ever going to enforce the same requirements for buggies that they do for vehicles. That being said, compromises have been made on both sides and it seems like an orange triangle is such a minor point. If they feel an orange triangle will impact their relationship with God, then they have a bigger problem.

  6. Katie, thank you for your input. This is the feeling I’ve been getting on this issue, and it’s interesting that you agree, coming from a different Amish community than me.

    Jinnie, it’s hard to explain, but it’s not just one bishop. There is a bishop in every church district, and they all look to one another for guidance on how to best adhere to the traditions the Amish have been following for many generations. So, if one bishop decides to become more lenient, he would probably get “visits” from bishops from neighboring districts. So, it’s almost as if tradition determines behavior among the Amish, not just one man.

    Miriam, welcome to the blog. It is always gratifying to know when someone discovers it and finds it fascinating. Reading all the entries is quite the chore, though! You make a good point about the cloak of silence that shrouds abuse. Denial is an important part of that shroud. I believe to break the cycle, we have to first break the silence.

    About the language… yes, “rum springa” literally means “running around.” I don’t know why the Amish termed it that. Ours was a dialect of the German language, and was a spoken dialect only. From what I can tell, it is closest to Pfaelzisch, from the Pfalz area of the Rhein. We would write to one another in English. No, my boys do not speak the language… in fact, I am sorry to say that I am losing the language. I don’t have opportunities to use it, and you know what they say about languages, if you don’t use it…

    Monica, you make a good point… we are already making exemptions from the rules of the road for the Amish. I was thinking that if we decided we had religious convictions against paying tolls… our car would be towed and we would have to pay the fines before getting it back. If local officials did that in Kentucky with Amish buggies, there would be a public outcry. The Amish are seen as a defenseless people. Yet, what other religious group is exempt from the rules of the road? Your last statement makes a good point.

    Thanks, as always, for your thoughtful comments, all.

  7. Nancy, I missed addressing your comment. I so agree with you about the feeling of responsibility of bringing no harm to people driving wagons/buggies on the road. I wrote something about that a while ago, but in a different context back on June 10, 2011. Here is a link to that post:

    I agree… no one wants to see wasteful deaths. Yet the Amish don’t believe in such a concept at all – they believe everything is God’s Will – even tragic or preventable deaths.

    Thank you for your comments.


  8. Ah yes–good point. They are not wasteful deaths if it is God’s Will. However, isn’t that another way of not taking responsibility for ones actions?

    I read your June blog post on freedom and responsibility — well done. How frightening it must have been for you when you realized the children were right behind your car. Thankfully, you did check again for the children.

    I appreciate your blog–the time and consideration you give to each post. Nancy

  9. Ah yes, there just ain’t no black & white in a world of gray…

    I think it is important here to weigh respect and responsibility. Respect for others’ beliefs, but also one’s own sense of responsibility. I sort of relate this to visiting another’s home. I was taught that you must respect (in most cases…) the “rules” of that home. If you cannot, then leave. If that was applied to roads, then I guess it would come down to who owns the road and what rules need to be followed by those who use them. Perhaps the Amish would care to send some representation to whatever “authority” decides the rules of the road?? (…and I think I know the answer to that.)

    Thank you for giving us such “food for thought.”

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