MAYFIELD, KY.— Mose Yoder stood in Graves District Court Monday afternoon, rested his bearded chin in his hand and awaited the question from Judge Deborah Hawkins Crooks.
She told him he owed $158 in fines and court costs for refusing to display a bright orange-red safety triangle on the back of his horse-drawn buggy.
“Mr. Yoder, do you intend to pay that amount?” she asked.
He shook his head silently, and she sentenced him to four days in the county jail.
In all, Crooks sentenced nine Amish men to between three and 10 days in jail, beginning late Monday night, for their refusal to pay the fines on religious grounds.
The men said that paying the fines would amount to complying with a law they believe violates their religious strictures against wearing bright colors or trusting in manmade symbols for their safety.
“I don’t think it’s right to put somebody in jail for practicing their religious beliefs … but that’s what we’ll do if that’s what it takes to abide by the biblical laws,” one of the men, Levi Zook, said before the hearing, which was held in a courtroom packed with dozens of Amish men, women and children.
Now, I am sympathetic to claims of religious discrimination but that is not the case here. This is a matter of public safety. Having a safety triangle on the back of their buggies will make it less likely that someone in a car will hit them in the dark. Surely they should put aside their scruples for the safety of their neighbors. In any event other groups of Old Order Amish do comply with this rule.
The men belong to an especially strict sect known as the Old Order Swartzentruber. Other Amish groups — including another that also lives in this Western Kentucky county — do comply with the safety requirement.
It is not as if the state of Kentucky weren’t willing to accommodate their beliefs.
If it doesn’t, more Amish may be filling the local jail, which has special-ordered dark-colored jumpsuits out of respect for the men’s likely aversion to wearing the usual orange jumpsuits.
For their part, the Amish have suggested using lanterns and gray colored tape. The lanterns would work well enough at night but the state has argued they would not be as effective in daylight.
I would add that if they are interested in obeying Biblical laws, they should consider this passage by the apostle Paul.
1 Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. 4 For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.
6 This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. 7 Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. (Romans 13:1-7)
13 Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, 14 or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. 15 For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. 16 Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. 17 Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor. (1Peter 2:13-17).
They did not mean, of course, that you should obey any order or law if it goes against God’s law. But you should obey any reasonable law, especially when it is intended for public safety.