We’ve seen Amish in court quite a bit lately.  Some cases have involved Amish clashing with laws of the state (KY SMV; PA horse neglect).  Others involve grievances between Amish and former Amish (Amish beard-cutting).

For another example of the latter, we can look back in history to a 1947 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette newspaper piece  “‘Mited’ Amish Farmer Given $5,000 by Jury”, describing an unusual lawsuit in Amish Ohio.

First, just what does “mite” mean?  You won’t find this particular meaning of mite in the dictionary, at least not in the Oxford or Merriam-Webster versions.

In Amish Society John Hostetler elaborates on the word: “a shortened derogatory form of meide or meidung, meaning “to shun”.  Hostetler describes it as “Amish journalistic jargon”.  The only examples I have so far found of “mite” relate to this suit, so it may have been a case-specific usage.  Nowadays reporters and the public primarily use the term “shun”.

The case

The case concerned an Ohio Amishman, Andrew J. Yoder, who left his church in order to join a more liberal congregation.  The reason as stated in the Post-Gazette was “because he wanted to buy an automobile to be able to transport his invalid daughter for medical treatment”.

The Amishman was excommunicated, and as Hostetler reports, “claimed economic hardship as a result of the shunning”.  Yoder sued four ministers of his former church, and won $5,000 in damages.

In an unusual interference in religious matters, the article reports that the judge “granted an injunction restraining the four churchmen from imposing any boycotts against Andrew J. Yoder which would deny him the right of religious liberty or cut him off from any social business relations with his fellow church members”.

The judge basically forbids the Amish from shunning the excommunicated Yoder, “[ordering] the four officials to withdraw any order instructing their congregation to boycott Yoder for alleged violation of church rules”.

I don’t know how that part worked out.  Hostetler reports that the Bishop’s farm was put up for sale after he refused to pay Yoder (see Amish Society pp. 345-346 for a summary).

The Bishop’s property was auctioned off, netting only a portion of the damages, with another church minister in the suit eventually paying the balance.  In a sad ending Yoder’s ill daughter Lizzie Mae died the following year at age 7.

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