Amish men jailed over reflective triangle dispute

Many Amish use the triangles with little objection, but Swartzentruber is a
breakaway order that follows even stricter rules on modesty, humility and
behaviour than other Amish.

“If we go ahead and put it on, the other groups of the Amish in other
states, they would shun us,” said Joe Stutzman, another man who has
been jailed.

The issue over triangles has come up before in other states with Amish
populations. Ohio, New York and Pennsylvania have allowed exemptions from
the orange triangles, and courts in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan have
sided with the religious freedom argument.

But Kentucky authorities say using the orange triangle is still the law.

“We feel that the reflective triangle is the best way, at least right
now, to be able to see those slow-moving objects on the road,” said
Dean Patterson, a spokesman for the Kentucky State Police.

Mr Patterson said authorities sympathise with the Amish’s religious argument,
but “we still incorporate them into the travelling public, so we can’t
pick and choose who we want to protect. We also have to protect them.”

Collisions of motor vehicles with Amish buggies are often fatal. In November,
a teenager using a harness-type horse carriage was killed in central
Kentucky when he was struck from behind by an SUV. The buggy did not have a
reflective triangle, though the family was not a part of the Swartzentruber
order. Several other fatal collisions with Amish buggies happened in the US
last year, though it’s not clear in each case whether reflective triangles
were used.

The Kentucky Court of Appeals ruled in June that the Amish would not be
excused because the law “serves as a condition to utilising a certain
privilege: the use of state roads.” The Kentucky Supreme Court plans to
hear the case.

Recorded violations of the law are rare in Kentucky, according to data
obtained by the AP. Of 89 violations in the last five years statewide, 57
were in Graves County, according to data compiled by the state
Administrative Office of the Courts.

Mr Gingerich said Swartzentrubers, just as they have for decades, will
continue to refuse to hang the triangles or pay fines.

Graves District Judge Deborah Crooks has set a Thursday deadline for
outstanding fines against the nine men, which means Mr Gingerich and others
could be sent back to jail. Mr Gingerich owes more than $600 in fines and
court costs.

“If we would go ahead and pay the fine, I think we would be working
against our own religious beliefs,” Mr Gingerich said. “We will
not pay the court to prosecute us for our religious beliefs.”

Mr Gingerich keeps a file cabinet drawer full of court papers on his farm. One
is a 2004 letter from Cunningham, the Graves County Attorney, who said the
Amish buggies could use grey reflective tape and hanging lanterns.

That’s just what Mr Gingerich and his friends did, but he said they began
receiving tickets a few years ago.

Cunningham “says he sent letters out to let us know that law is not
validated anymore,” Mr Gingerich said. He said he never received the

The judge and county attorney did not return calls seeking comment.

The jailings in September outraged some Kentuckians, even outside of Graves

“When I first heard about this, a little voice in the back of my head
said you should really help them out down there,” said Michael Meeks, a
Louisville business owner who spent time on a Quaker farm as a youth. Meeks
paid Mr Gingerich’s outstanding fines in September, freeing him from jail a
couple of days early.

“They’re not breaking the law in my mind,” said John Via, a
Mayfield resident and a former state transportation worker who also paid an
Amish man’s court fine in September. “But they got a jail record that
will travel with them the rest of our days.”

Kentucky lawmakers could solve the impasse. Some legislators have proposed
changing the law to allow buggies to use grey reflective tape instead of the
orange signs.

“I think the Amish are in the right, it’s that simple,” said Rep.
Johnny Bell, a Democrat from south-central Kentucky who plans to file
legislation next month. “I think they should be allowed the lifestyle
that they choose, as well as the rest of us.”

Aside from religious objections, the Amish men say the reflective triangle
offers no more protection from a car than the grey reflective tape. To
support that, Mr Gingerich cites a 2001 Penn State University study
concluding that reflective tape instead of the triangle would “not
result in a safety reduction for the Swartzentruber Amish.”

Levi Hostetler was struck by a car coming around a bend in Graves County a
couple of years ago, destroying his buggy and sending him to the hospital
with a concussion. He wonders what difference an orange triangle would have

The car’s driver “said he couldn’t see nothing,” Hostetler said. “Didn’t
matter if I had Christmas lights or whatever on, he couldn’t have seen it.”

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