Amish Exemptions

Many issues arise between the intersection between the Amish culture and the mainstream culture because the values are so different. This often means that the Amish are granted exemptions from laws that they feel infringe on their religious beliefs or practices.

Culturally, the Amish tend to be in touch with the precariousness of life and they believe that when our time is up, we die. In the mainstream culture, people have all kinds of insurance to shelter them from disaster and safety features in cars, homes, and workplaces. In short, people in the mainstream cutlure are much more risk-averse than the Amish are.

There are times when the mainstream culture tries to impose its values on the Amish, and in other instances, the Amish tend to impose theirs on the outside world. Most people see the former, but not the latter. Let me start with an example of just such a situation.

In upstate New York there has been an ongoing issue about making buggies more visible on public roads at night. The Amish there are Swartzentruber Amish, of the strictest kind. They don't believe in displaying orange SMV triangles on their buggies, even though most other Amish groups do. They also do not allow battery-operated lights on their buggies, and to make things more restrictive, they only allow a kerosene-burning lamp on ONE side of the buggy, not both. This caused issues with the motorists on the road, who found the buggies impossible to see at night. So the county legislature tried to enforce the Amish to display the triangles.

By refusing to comply with the laws and making their buggies more visible, I believe the Amish were imposing their values on the mainstream culture. Just because they are willing to take the risks that driving their (nearly) invisible buggies on the public roads at night, they were forcing the rest of the culture to take risks that most people would consider unnecessary. Back in April, I wrote an opinion piece for the Watertown Daily Times concerning this issue.

There was a report in the Watertown Daily Times yesterday about the agreement that was reached between the Amish leaders and the legislators in which the Amish have agreed to double the amount of reflective tape on their buggies, not just on the back, but on both sides and on the front. I am glad that the sides reached an agreement. Making the buggies more visible at night is the objective. However, I noticed that this is a voluntary agreement, which means that if the Amish don't follow through on this agreement, we will be hearing about this issue again. It's human nature to follow rules for which there are consequences, and ignore those that don't. I think the legislators should at least have asked for the Amish to mount a lamp on BOTH sides of their buggies. It makes sense that two lamps make more light than one.

There is another ongoing issue in Kentucky that has been in the news quite a bit lately. In this case, two Amish men are serving jail sentences over horse manure on the city streets of Auburn. The city passed an ordinance that requires horses to wear "collection devices" within the city limits and Amos Mast and his son Dan were cited for not complying. They refused to pay the fines and the case went to court. They still refused to pay the fines and are choosing to serve time in jail instead.

This issue is not one that has to do with religious beliefs. It is a much more practical issue of how to mount a collection device on a horse that doesn't spook it. Because they are animals with instincts, anything touching their back end or their heels hitting something as they run, is equivalent to a stranger coming up from behind and touching or poking you when you didn’t even know anyone was around. And cleaning up after the horse is just as impractical. Imagine what it would do to the congestion on the city streets if the Amish drivers had to stop every time a horse made a deposit. In the case of there being one occupant in the buggy, what is he to do with the horse while he's cleaning up?

In this case, I think that the mainstream culture is trying to impose its values on the Amish. By passing such an ordinance, the city officials were targeting the Amish and making it difficult for them to practice their way of life. Horse manure is biodegradeable. The emissions from cars are not. Having the streets of Auburn, Kentucky free of horse manure is less of a problem than the safety issues caused by cleaning up the city streets or spooking the horses.

This issue is not a new one and it concerns everyone who lives around the Amish. A Google search turned up newspaper reports about communities in Loyal, Wisconsin; Brown City, Michigan; Huevelton and Gouverneur, New York; and Negley, Ohio, In 2006, there was a mystery concerning horse manure that brings comic relief to this issue in my home community of Middlefield, Ohio.

So in the first case, I don't think the Amish should have gotten an exemption, and in the second case, I think they should have (or that the ordinance should not have been passed in the first place). I will be writing about more Amish exemptions in my next post. Feel free to let me know of any you're curious about.

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7 thoughts on “Amish Exemptions”

  1. Pingback: Amish Exemptions | Former Amish News

  2. Call me crazy, but I’ve always liked the smell of horse manure. I wouldn’t want to step in it (yikes!) but I think that horses, in general, have a nice smell, and I’ve never minded mucking a stall.

    Even if the horses’ flight reaction could be overcome through training (and as ex-racehorses go, Standardbreds are cool like a cucumbers–they are fantastic horses) there’s still the issue of the rub at the back of their legs. Ouch! The Amish are right not to permit that.

    1. Stacy, I don’t mind the smell of horses either. Not nearly as bad as cows or pigs!

      I don’t blame the Amish for not wanting to fit their horses with diapers, either. Good thing the people in Auburn, Kentucky don’t live in Iowa… the pig smell there is pretty powerful.

      Thanks for your thoughts. You obviously know something about horses.

  3. Elaine Kenseth

    As always, Saloma, your commentary is thoughtful and measured. I trembled when I read about the stricter Amish in New York and their hard-to-see buggies – knowing how I tremble even here in the Valley for fear of hard-to-see night-time cyclists. Glad there was a resolution, which I believe your opinion piece had a lot to do with .

    Like another reader, I, too, love everything about horses, and all the accompanying fragrances. I could understand how town management might find a way to be concerned about horse manure on the street, but at the same time, I also find the city’s ordinance a bit curious, coming from a city in a state that gets a lot of revenue from their traditions with horses – ie. the Kentucky Derby, etc. I found your points well taken about the natural nature of manure, bio-degradable and non-toxic compared to the emissions of automobiles so sound.

    “Good points,” I found myself thinking. Good writer that you are, after your sharing led me to my own thoughts. I started reflecting to myself.

    The first reflection came to me with a chuckle as to how times certainly do change. My Norwegian grandmother, born in Oslo in 1875, arrived in Boston in 1885, and was married to another Norwegian in 1894. She eventually became mother of 8 and my elder aunts would often tell me, especially if they heard me complaining about chores, how Mama would send the older children out to collect the manure on the streets, which they would dry and then use in their wood stove in the very early 1900’s.

    Then I went a bit deeper – what a wry commentary the situation in Auburn is as to what some of us in mainstream society seem to value…preferring toxic emissions in the air we breathe to the occasional biodegradable equine deposit on the streets.

    It’s not as if the City of Auburn is the first city to have horse drawn buggies or carts. I would wonder if they would be willing to check in with the hugely populated cities in this continent – New York, Boston, New Orleans, Montreal- that have numbers of horses on the streets, transporting visitors about their city. I wonder what their system is for dealing with manure?

    I personally feel that it is unjust for the two Amish men to be serving time in prison, especially now during the most important season for a farming community. I would hope that the City of Auburn would reevaluate their policy and the consequences of “pay the fine or incarceration.” It seems like a severe penalty and quite unfair. The ordinance definitely targets the Amish and others who are in horse drawn transport? But how many citizens, other than the Amish, are going to be have their mode of transport affected by the city’s policy? My prayer for enlightened and compassionate awakening to the need for deeper cultural understanding on the part of the city and that a way to work out a system that is just and fair.

    1. Elaine, thank you for your kind words. It is always gratifying to find an appreciative reader… it is what keeps me going.

      Your grandmother is not the only one who has burned dried dung. That is actually using a lot of common sense… especially in places where one doesn’t have access to wood for fuel. Why pay for coal when you have fuel lying out on the streets :-)

      When I did a bit of research, I found that this became an issue in Vienna, Austria, for the horse-drawn carriages. It is, like you said, an wry commentary on our culture… it’s probably the same people who like to take those rides who don’t like the “messes” on the street.

      It is unjust for the men to have to serve time in jail for horse manure on the roads. I wrote an article that was printed in the local paper in Kentucky, but it doesn’t seem to be online any longer, called “When Amish become Martyrs.” I was pointing out that if they make these people into martyrs, they lose… the Amish have a long history of being martyrs. And the public sympathy will be with the Amish. I suggested that they have the Amish clean up around the hitching posts in town. It seems to me if they are so concerned about the roads, they should use a street cleaner.

      Some years ago, Amos Mast was one of eight men who were jailed for not displaying SMV triangles on their buggies. Eventually, like in upstate New York, they settled on more reflective tape. I cannot help but wonder if this issue is somehow related to the earlier one.

      Compassion would go a long way here, you are right about that. I cannot help but wonder why the Amish in Kentucky haven’t just moved elsewhere. Most Amish do not stick around with this much controversy.

      Very thought-provoking comments. Thank you.

  4. I look at it this way: Horse manure won’t hurt anyone. Driving an unlit buggy at night can cause injury or death. My motto has always been do no harm. We humans seem to need things that divide us and keep us from being friends.

    1. I agree, Joan, about the horse manure and driving unlit buggies at night. Your last statement has me thinking. Why do we have a need for something to divide us and keep us from being friends, when we also have a need for connection, belonging, and friends? It’s one of those paradoxes, I suppose.

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