Amish, and religion, in court

amish in courtThree high-profile cases involving Amish are happening right now.  When Amish are involved in legal disputes, religious arguments tend to come up.  But is it always valid to invoke religion?

To take one example, Sam Mullett, leader of the Bergholz beard-cutting group, claimed authorities shouldn’t be involved in what was a religious issue.

Shocking claims about Ohio Bergholz group

To follow up on this story, claims about the Bergholz group seem to become more bizarre as time passes.  Now there are warnings of a possible Jonestown-like mass suicide outcome, as well as stories of violence and other nasty things (brainwashing, beatings, “taking wives”) happening in Mullet’s clan.

Separating hearsay from fact is difficult, and as Mike of Primitive Christianity warned on another post, passing stories along can be dangerous.  But these claims are now getting louder play, and are coming not just from one person, as detailed in this recent major news article.

Five men have been arrested for the hair and beard cutting attacks.  Stories like the above certainly aren’t helping them in the court of public opinion.  The men’s lawyer has tried to start reversing that:

Their lawyer Andrew Hyde defended the men and said it was them paying their own legal bills and not Mullet, telling WKYC: ‘The five men I’ve met in this case are complete gentlemen with deeply founded Christian beliefs. 

‘I think a lot of the fear-mongering is being done by others to try to show these gentlemen in a bad light.

‘The experience I’ve had with them would cause me no fear at all. I’d have them in my house tomorrow.’

It will be interesting to see to what degree religious arguments are made on their behalf in court.  And to what degree, if at all, they will be tolerated.

Amish investment fraud case

Monroe Beachy, an Ohio Amishman who ran a fund which lost roughly $17 million, was arrested last month and charged by federal authorities with defrauding his investors.

The case touches investors in 29 states, mainly Amish.  People were shocked something like this could happen in the Amish community, and the media quickly labeled him the “Amish Bernie Madoff”.

When this story emerged last summer, Beachy originally claimed bankruptcy.  Members of his community convinced him to try to retract the claim.

The big controversy then was that claiming bankruptcy, which means involving governmental authorities, is something Amish do not do.

They would sort things out themselves, they said, arguing that their religion compelled them to do so.  To no avail.  The retraction was rejected (also, I think, relevant: not all of Beachy’s investors were Amish).

Now religious arguments have returned.  Beachy wishes to enter a no-contest plea on religious grounds.  Apparently this is never done at this level of court.  It sounds like it will be rejected.

I’m not a legal scholar.  But “no contest” is technically not an admission of guilt, though apparently is treated about the same way as a guilty plea by the court.  One difference, as I understand it, is that this type of plea can prevent you being sued later for civil damages.

Kentucky SMV troubles spread

Amish in Kentucky have also given religious reasons for refusing to use the Slow Moving Vehicle triangle.  Following the sentencing to jail of 8 Amishmen in Graves County, Amishmen in Grayson County (about 150 miles northeast) are being prosecuted for the same.

“It’s basically a public safety issue,” said Grayson County Attorney Clay Ratley. “I respect their religion, I respect their beliefs, but at the same time, we have to follow the law.”

I don’t know to what degree county legal policy is shaped by state legal authorities.  But that is two county courts now that have gone ahead with prosecuting Amish in Kentucky.

Legal authorities in other states (Ohio, New York) have accommodated Amish who refuse the SMV triangle (a minority, mainly the Swartzentruber Amish).   Looks like Kentucky is not going to be on board here.

Values differences

These sorts of cases bring out the stark contrast between Plain values and those of the majority culture.  The principle of community, as came up in the Beachy case, or non-conformity to the world, an element of the SMV case, are essential to Amish identity.  These values are rooted in religious belief.

When cases like these make the courts and the news, we are often seeing the more “extreme” examples of these values on display.   But even though most Amish don’t take non-conformity to the levels that, say, the Swartzentrubers do, the general principle is still shared by all Amish.

America is a tolerant place.  Most other countries do not have the same range of religious creeds or practical degree of acceptance we do.  But there are limits to that acceptance, and public values to some degree shape our legal system.

I think most would find Sam Mullet’s claims of religion justifying physical attacks out-of-bounds.  But what about these other, less clear cases?

Do we still have sympathy for religious arguments when it’s only a minority-segment-of-a-minority religion making them, or sometimes just a single individual?

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    1. L

      Daily Mail link

      Daily Mail is not a very reliable source. It is known for sensationalism.

      1. True, they tend to present things from the sensational side, and there is a good bit of garbage in that paper. You can’t discount everything just because of the source, though. Direct quotes like the one used here are valuable.

        The point, that a high-profile story like this only feeds into the negative perception of this group, stands. To what degree will the group’s lawyer use religion to combat that perception?

    2. GreyCatz

      Tolerance vs. Respect.

      I think the current cases involving Amish serve to underline the difference between tolerance and respect. While the former is often practiced as a one-way acceptance of diversity (“We accept who you are and what you do”), the latter usually comes with the expectation that the other party reciprocate in kind (“We respect you, and you respect us”).

      Tolerance is usually practiced towards minorities simply because they are minorities. The inherent vulnerability associated with being a minority often evokes a patronizing or, in the case of the Amish, romanticized attitude on the part of the majority.

      I happen to like the Amish for a number of reasons, but I live in Europe in Denmark, a distinctly non-Amish country. We tend to look upon the Amish as a peculiar, but basically harmless, group of people who speak a funny language. But they would never be tolerated in Danish society.

      As much as I admire the USA for accommodating the Amish over the past century, I’m not sure if it’s viable solution today. Between the civil rights movement and the increase in illegal immigration, people’s perception of tolerance and respect has changed.

      As is the case in Europe, I get the feeling that Americans are slowly moving away from ‘all-out tolerance’ and towards ‘rules-based respect’, which means that in near future they will expect all minorities, including the Amish, to abide by the same rules as the majority.

      1. Danish minority tolerance

        GreyCatz I find your comment that they would never be tolerated in Danish society very interesting. Is that an ideological objection, or rather practical reasons–Danes would refuse to make concessions such as 8 grades of schooling, or buggies on the road? Or something else?

        1. GreyCatz

          Danish Tolerance.

          Hello Erik:

          The objection would be practical. Denmark is 81 % Christian (Lutheran-Evangelical) and there is no separation between church and state. This means we actually have a “State Department of the Church”. We do have complete freedom of religion, e.g. Catholicism, Islam, and Norse (the Viking gods).

          In theory, the Amish would be allowed to practice their religion just like everyone else, but they would have to be cleared with the Church Department. The Amish, being Anabaptists, would probably feel more welcome in Protestant Denmark than, say, Muslims – but only up to a point!

          In practice, the Amish would not be exempt from any kind of legislation whatsoever. Everyone pays taxes, ALL taxes; everyone has to abide by the traffic code, including the Royal Family; and NO, you can’t drive around in horse-drawn buggies no matter what your religion is.

          Even if the Amish were to go “all Schwartzentruber”, the Danish government would still impose its authority through its departments, primarily Health, Tax, Education, and Transport.

          1. Religious diversity in northern Europe

            Very interesting, GreyCatz, this was something I had no idea about. To be completely honest–and I’m not trying to pick on Denmark here–but my first thought on reading about being cleared with the Church Department was “Orwell”. I’m betting that’s an overreaction on my part, but my touchpoint is the US religious tradition, where it seems that all you need to start a new church is a few like-minded followers and a building, and “have at it”, as they say (as long as you’re not plotting to blow up federal buildings or conducting underage marriages, of course).

            In Poland, where I live a good part of the year, professing a faith other than the Roman Catholic is unusual, though not unheard of. I have Pentecostalists in my (more distant) Polish family. And there is a growing group of non-believers, or rather non-practicing folk. But when you talk “church” in Poland, you’re almost always referring to Rome.

            1. GreyCatz


              Hello, Erik:

              Although we would never use ‘Orwellian’ to describe anything in our society, we understand fully that Americans can feel that way.

              Ironically, you can establish just about any kind of religion in Denmark – you just need to obtain an official ‘approval’ from the Church Department. This arrangement works both ways: Your religion becomes eligible for various government grants, and the Danish Church asserts its religious supremacy.

              We used to have religious groups like the Amish in Denmark, too. But most of them ‘assimilated’ or petered out some time in the 19th century, i.e. with the onslaught of industrialization. Today, there are a few Jehova Witnesses left, and possibly some Pentecostalists.

              1. Gotcha, GreyCatz. I hope you know that wasn’t meant to be offensive–more a reaction to the terminology, probably–and which I imagine might come out sounding differently in Danish. Orwellian isn’t a term to throw around lightly.

                Interesting elaboration though. You’ve also got me wondering about church attendance/identification levels in Denmark. I may need to do a little research.

                1. GreyCatz

                  Hello, Erik:

                  I get you, too; no problem – besides, I was the one who used the word ‘Orwellian’.

                  As I mentioned in an earlier post, Danes are less suspicious of Government than Anglo-Saxons. In fact, we tend to view government as a ‘benign provider’ of many fundamental services, e.g. universal health care and public schools. This may explain why we still have the Church Department.

                  On the other hand, the fact that we do not separate church and state does strike more and more Danes as being old-fashioned. Especially since our neighbours, Sweden, separated their church from the state about ten years ago.

              2. Amish in Europe

                One thing that wouldn’t ever fly with any Amish would be government schooling. Germany is notorious against homeschooling, and a friend that just moved to Switzerland (she grew up there, but married here and now her husband died and she went back) reports that homeschooling is possible, but definitely not well accepted there.
                A few years back a Hutterite group looked seriously at starting a colony in Sweden, but if I remember right, the schooling thing was one issue that put the stops to the project.
                On separation of church and state, if you appreciate that concept, thank your local Anabaptist. While Peter Chelcicky and the Bohemian Brethren spoke of the concept 100 years before the Anabaptist movement of the 1500s, it was the Anabaptists who basically got the ball rolling. But the cost was tremendous … a lot of Anabaptist heads went rolling off the chopping block before the idea became acceptable enough that governments started accepting the idea.
                Erik, that Daily News article smells of typical sensation news; about 25% truth mixed with some quotes from somebody who may have an axe to grind. Throw in some hints of a leader who takes advantage of the women and you have a news article for the National Inquirer.:-)
                No matter what religious group (or political) you have, you can find someone who has some serious grumps to make. Usually the grumps have some element of truth to them.

                1. Daily Mail article on Sam Mullet group

                  Mike, on the veracity of the Daily Mail, I briefly responded to that in the first comment above.

                  But to elaborate: while I wouldn’t build a research paper on this article I don’t think we should outright discount it. I would also find it hard to place a % value as to how much is accurate.

                  We do know that (innocent until proven guilty, yes) multiple members of the group have already inflicted methodical violence on multiple occasions; Sherriff Abdalla claims Mullet threatened to kill him on multiple occasions (seen here and in other more attractive news sources); a former member of the group now has begun making claims of more bad things, along with other reports via Arlene Miller and at least one other individual (though yes, suicide cult predictions are a little over-the-top, as may be the polygamy implications); and there is also the 2007 sex abuse conviction issue which–granted we don’t know all details of–doesn’t exactly paint the group or its leader in a great light. This is leaving out all the hearsay stories that keep popping up.

                  At some point the benefit of the doubt starts to swing against a person/group who’ve put together a “rap sheet” like that. I’m not saying Mullet is running a harem, or that things don’t get exaggerated when aggrieved parties are involved, but at this point what is the argument for putting more faith in what he says over giving a little attention to what these other people, such as this former member, are saying?

                  Still, we don’t know. And in any case all this I’ve just written isn’t the main reason I posted the article.

                  The main point was, within the context of the main issue in the post, religion in court (which, maybe I should have made clearer in the post). This group’s level of public sympathy is hovering over rock bottom, and stories like this one, even if they’re not 100% accurate, only knock it down further.

                  I found the lawyer quoted in the piece (which I’m going to trust is an accurate quote) beginning to paint a religious-tinged argument about the good character of his clients interesting, as a hint of what might be to come. How willing (and how able, for that matter) will he be to use religion to defend his clients?

                  Either way, to state the obvious, an ugly situation.

                  1. I am not trying to uphold Sam’s group. Something is out of order there, obviously. But I could point you to some websites that are “anti-this-group-or-that-group” (I wont waste your time …) that are built on tearing down the reputation of some church.
                    Well, I happen to know the facts on those cases (which I dont in Sam Mullet’s case), and know that some of the people who were accused of horrible things (sexual abuse, physical abuse, “spiritual abuse”, mind control–they are common accusations from ex-members of many groups) were simply not guilty of them. So when I see all the accusations flying, unless I know the integrity of the person who is telling them, and that they are a first hand report, I dont put a lot of weight on them.
                    And of course, sometimes the accusations are true.

                    1. I didn’t think you were uphholding the group Mike. And you make a good point on accusations. I’m not putting a whole lot of weight on them yet either, but I’ll just say that based on what’s happened so far I’ve become more sympathetic to opposing claims. But obviously, for human good, I hope they’re false.

                    2. Jessica


                      I just wanted to say in my experience Mike is right. Public opinion of a group can get very easily coloured by hearsay and false accusations… and sadly, a lot of that can come from former members. It seems like a lot of times, when someone finally leaves such a close-knit group as the Amish and other conservative Anabaptists, they leave with a lot of anger. And time and grudges have a way to turn bad memories into something much worse. So while I have a bad feeling about Mullett’s people, I’m not sure I’d trust all the stories that are flying around.

    3. This really is a good post in that it gets everyone thinking but I don’t think there’s one right answer. I think I have a mental block when it comes to the SMV signs in KY. I don’t think you can go out on the public roads with rules of your own. I can’t say that I believe God wants my children to learn to drive on the sidewalks and don’t tell me otherwise because it’s my religious belief. On the other hand, I understand them wanting to stick with what they’ve been taught to believe. Religious freedom is what America is about, but like you said, to what degree? It’s extra hard when you can see all the points of view. About the Sam Mullet thing, well, I’m speechless. I’m sure I feel the same way as everyone else on that.

      1. Questions, questions

        I’m glad you found it worthwhile Beth. I found it interesting that all 3 are happening right now, b/c taken as a whole there are a wide range of issues. Also the people involved range from sympathetic to the complete opposite.

        Mullet’s point of view is the hardest to sympathize with for obvious reasons. Sounds like a pretty cynical use of religion.

        The Beachy case is pretty interesting for me right now, mainly because I know little about the intricacies of how cases are pled and what can result.

        The implication I took away after reading the article is that religious grounds could be used to enter a no-contest plea, but why do you want a no-contest plea? B/c you simply, philosophically don’t want to admit guilt? Or to protect oneself from civil suits? Or is there another reason…It seems like if the latter were the case, it could also be a pretty cynical use of religion. But I don’t know enough to say.

        The KY SMV situation is also interesting. That’s 2 county-level courts in the state now going forward with prosecution. It would be nice if someone more versed in how this works legally could explain–is this typically initiated or coordinated by someone at a higher level?

    4. Very interesting discussion. And GreyCatz, your information is fascinating. I’ve often wondered why the Amish thrive in North America, but they don’t survive in other countries. What you described makes sense, and it does point to the religious tolerance in the U.S. and Canada.

      Speaking of court cases, does anyone know whatever happened in the Chester Mast case? He’s the man in Missouri accused of child sexual abuse. Even though that was written about in the NYT in September 2010, I cannot find anything that tells me what happened there.

      1. Saloma, I do not know on that one, I thought he was convicted and sentenced to prison, but maybe I am remembering wrong. Maybe someone else here does.

      2. Saloma – When I was in Bowling Green, Missouri, (he was from the town right next to it), an Amish woman told me he was in jail and that it was sad that his wife had to raise their young children by herself (I think they had 2). She didn’t elaborate too much about how long he’d be in there or anything (I don’t think she knew) but she said they were hoping he could at least get the help that he needed in there, and also that’s where he needed to be. He apparently had a “history” there and she wasn’t too sad he was out of the picture – for now anyway.

    5. Religion and State, Amish and Adaptibility

      There is always a dichotomy between church and state, even when there is a state church. (I’m an Anglican living in Canada.) The Amish, who have a “two kingdoms theology” – and they consider themselves primarily living in God’s kingdom and sojourning in the world – will always have some conflict with state authority. They will always find themselves having to interact in the court even though they do not want that. As areas where they live become more densely populated, issues over traffic law will become more common, and even the more traditional groups will be forced to concede or change in more drastic ways; i.e. risk having horse-drawn transportation forbidden on public roadways of a certain classification. Denmark is a good model of how that can be handled. Danes are tolerant of groups that are different, and even welcoming of diversity, as long as those groups agree to laws that address the public good. Amish who would want to settle in Denmark woudl be expected to adapt. They would have to resort to bicycles, for instance, for personal transportation, and the numerous peddle-powered variations that Danes seem to love to invent. They might have to look at hiring local drivers, or utilize rail transport to take goods to market. They would also have to adapt to a country where good farm land does not come on the market. While the more conservative Amish groups would have a hard time adapting their ways to a place like Denmark, Amish ingenuity would be quite at home in Denmark and Northern Europe.

      1. Very interesting thought experiment Magdalena. I didn’t expect we’d be imagining how Amish transplants to Scandinavian countries would work out, but I’m glad GreyCatz has led us down that path today!

    6. GreyCatz

      Amish in Denmark: A Disclaimer.

      Although I’m very particular about getting the facts right, I’m not an expert – not even on Denmark. The views expressed here are, of course, entirely my own.

      From what I’ve learnt about the Amish on this site, they would run into Danish legislation very quickly. Danes have never been happy about special rights or privileges (perceived or real), except for the Royal Family (and 10 per cent of Danes aren’t too happy about that, either).

      Issues concerning health (“Are those kids running around barefoot?”), education (“Can you spell e-v-o-l-u-t-i-o-n?”) and PA German (“You’re not Nazis, are you?”) would soon make the headlines, and the outcome would probably involve the children being forcibly removed, and public sentiment turning against a group of people who don’t speak Danish.

      It doesn’t mean that Danes are more xenophobic or suspicious than other people; but unlike Anglo-Saxon countries such as Britain and USA, Scandinavian countries generally have a positive view of ‘government’ or ‘the State’, even when we complain about taxes!

      1. Lee Ann

        The Amish left Europe due to the lack of freedom of religion there. They came to North America for that freedom and also Canada. Now America is making them think about about that freedom.

        I believe in tolerance of others religion and accepting people for who they are. All religions can trive anywhere, so long as others are willing do “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” If we want to be accepted no matter what religion, or beliefs, we have to treat others the way we want to be treated.

        I have family that are Luthern, and some of other relgions, but we have learned to accept one anothers beliefs and let things go and live among each other peacefully.

        I am of Danish and Swedish heritage, and I know tolerance is necessary anywhere you live. I do not believe all Danes are closed minded.

      2. Valerie

        Question for GreyCatz

        Hello GreyCatz,
        Your statement regarding the government not accomodating Amish, because Church & State being one & same. You mentioned education:
        E-V-O-L-U-T-I-O-N, primarily in your point.

        Part of the reason for Homeschooling in the U.S., and parochial Christian schools is for that reason, not just in Amish, but in alot of Christian faiths in our country. Parents don’t want their children to have the evolution theory pushed as truth on them. You said that your country is 81% Christian. Are you also saying that Evolution is taught over Creation?

        It is said that America is 80something% Christian as well-but most Christians I know would contend with that as being an accurate figure.

        Anway, if you wouldn’t mind clarifying what you meant, regarding the evolution statement,
        thank you!

        1. GreyCatz

          Evolution in Denmark.

          Hello, Valerie:

          Evolution is taught in Danish schools, private and public, to the exclusion of everything else. It is accepted as the theory that makes most sense to us, and it is the most useful instrument to understand the world around us. We don’t allow home-schooling except in very special cases, e.g. grave disabilities, and even then the national curriculum remains in force.

          In Denmark, religion is a private matter and rarely invoked in any kind of public discussion. Similarly, we don’t expect our politicians to use God as a measure of morality. The only person who can “get away” with using God is our Queen (‘God Save Denmark’), and she only does this once a year, on New Year’s Eve.

          Danes are 81 per cent Lutheran-Evangelical. The rest is divided between Catholics, Jews, Muslims, and tiny religious associations (e.g. Norse and Buddists). This allows for little religious diversity, unlike USA with Baptists, Presbyterians, Pentecostalists etc. Even with increased immigration from Muslim countries, public debate in Denmark has never questioned evolution – even Muslims seem to accept this ‘doctrine’ of the Church Department.

          I can’t be completely sure, of course, but I don’t think that any EU member state allows home-schooling or alternatives to evolution.

          1. Valerie

            Separation of Church & State-Anabaptist

            Shalom GreyCatz,
            By your reply I realize that even today the Anabaptists would have to flee from Denmark as well as any Christian who opposes Evolution teaching then? So the State dictates to the churches what to believe?. I can see why & appreciate more the need for separation of church & state then. The Spirit filled Christians in America still adhere to the 6 day Creation being literal as taught in Genesis 1.
            The introduction to anything contrary to Creation as in evolution, would be the understanding of I Timothy 4:3,4 “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachrs, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables;”

            And we know the great falling away will precede the Lord Jesus glorious returning (2 Thessalonians 2:3)

            It seems we are living in the days of the falling away. If Government starts eliminating scriptures as absolute truth, then what happens to the people who want to adhere to the infallibility of Scripture? Martyrdom as in what happened during the Reformation?
            If this happens in the U.S., which I would not rule out as possible, we may face the same as our Anabaptist brethren.

            1. Valerie


              The scripture reference above was meant to be II Timothy 4:3,4

            2. GreyCatz

              Hello, Valerie:

              First of all, please understand that in Denmark we don’t actually “persecute” anyone; Danish legislation allows for any religious practice. I suppose it could be summed up as “take it or leave it”, i.e. we respect your religion, and you respect our legislation.

              In Denmark religion is a private and personal matter. This means that you could teach your children alternatives to evolution, e.g. creationism, in your private home. Your children would, however, still be ‘exposed’ to evolution at school. In private, you’re free to profess any kind of belief, including extremist or radical political ideas, as long as “no one gets hurt”. An example: Danish legislation allows people to espouse Nazi sympathies as long as they don’t act our their violent ideology, i.e. actually attacking other people.

              My point made earlier was that the Amish would probably find it very difficult to accept the level of government involvement practiced in Denmark. My guess is that Amish children would not be allowed to run around barefooted simply because it would pose a health hazard. The Amish might even accept this, but on the issue of 10 years of mandatory secular school, they would probably consider moving to another country.

              Danes (and other Scandinavians) are inherently wary of privileges or special rights, and so they would probably be averse to the kind of ‘accommodation’ needed for Amish to live in Denmark. As stated earlier, I admire the USA for its traditional flexibility towards religious communities, such as the Amish, and personally I wouldn’t have any problem with having Amish as my neighbours, but I just don’t think they would be able to align their religious belief with Danish legislation.

              I’m slowly realizing that apart from all the interesting things I learn about the Amish on this site, I also learn more about my own country 🙂

              1. Valerie

                Interesting, GreyCatz

                I too find that I’m learning about more than the Amish here, and appreciate what you shared regarding Denmark. It is interesting you mentioning that religion a private matter-but how would Denmark have become Lutheran, primarily if that was always the case?

                I mentioned in my previous post the falling away of “the Church” before Christ’s second coming-I just read an article how Sweden is now 80% atheist, and churches are turning into places of business, or, may be blown up to destroy. How does a country get like that? I’m sure, not overnight-could it be acceptance of teachings e.g. evolution, vs. creationism, watering down the message, embracing man’s replacement teachings over God’s truths? It is helping know how and what to pray for in my own country, learning of these things.

                Private? Romans 1:16: For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the Power of God unto salvation to every one what believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.

                I stand with the Apostle Paul on this, thankfully, someone shared the gospel with me and didn’t keep it private. Just my thoughts.

                1. Valerie

                  Could it happen in America?

                  I thought I’d share the link on what’s happening in Sweden since this has broadened in topic-of course, if this DID happen in America, since most Amish hold church services in homes, it would not affect them:


                2. GreyCatz

                  Hello, Valerie:

                  The comment about “private and personal” isn’t a reflection of legislation. Danes just don’t feel the need to profess or display their religion in public – think about it: If you know that 80 per cent of people around are Lutherans, you don’t really need to make it an issue. At least I think that’s the reason.

                  As for Sweden, I will have to check the figure about Atheists: Sweden separated their church from the state about ten years ago, and unlike Denmark they have a long and vibrant tradition of religious variation. In small rural and woodland communities it is not uncommon to find five or six different religious affiliations, e.g. Pentecostalists, Philadelphia, and Bethesda. I’ve always considered Sweden a deeply Protestant country – at least as Protestant as Denmark.

                  The practice of selling church buildings, seen in some European countries these days, for often purely financial reasons strikes me as wrong, too. I may be contradicting myself in certain respects, but I just think it’s sacrilegious to convert a church into a concert hall, a private residence or an internet café.

                  1. Valerie

                    Will the Amish be last to Believe Truth?

                    Interesting-the thought was Sweden to be deeply Protestant, but when polled, it was found they are 80% atheist? So how does the tide start turning in a country the other direction? Personally, I believe if you reject Genesis 1 as truth regarding Creation, then all of scripture can then be doubted. Seems to be happening that way, doesn’t it? The UK is said to be closing 2-3 churches per week from another article I read. It is a wonderful privelege the Amish still have Christian beliefs in many of their school text books.

                    We have our own battles here in the U.S., to fight atheism, this is just one of the many examples I get alerted to from various Christian legal organizations fighting to keep God from being pushed out of America:

                    Dear Valerie,

                    For nearly 60 years, a statue of Jesus has graced the side of Big Mountain in Montana – a memorial constructed to honor World War II veterans by members of the 10th Mountain Division – war heroes. Now, the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), an atheist group dedicated to destroying the religious heritage and foundation of this nation, is fighting to have it removed.

    7. Melissa

      Just some thoughts...


      I find this article and the comments to it very thought provocing. GreyCatz comments are most facinating! Thanks for sharing how this would be handled in Denmark GreyCatz!

      As a Christian woman (who happens to be married to an ordained minister) I have some personal thoughts…

      1) Sam Mullet case-He and his group should not be allowed to hide behind their “religion.” Lets say I made up my own religion-or even twisted an already established religion, gained followers, and decided that part of our religion would be that we could beat our children if they showed any form of disrespect (talking back, saying no, throwing a tantrum, etc), or that we could go into someone’s home and terrorize them because they think differently than I do…I’d be in jail in a heartbeat–and rightfully so!

      2) Mr Beachy–My initial thought is that if his actions only affected the Amish community, and they wanted to deal with this privately, then so be it…but it didn’t. Some of his vicitms were “English.” I say let the courts handle his no-contest plea. I would like to know more about this case…will it go before a jury? If so, he couldn’t be certain of a jury of his peers because then some Amish would need to sit on the jury, and I can’t imagine them being willing to.

      3) KY Triangle case–If this is already an issue in two county courts, then I think it’s time the state (a few level-headed legislators) and the bishops within the state sit down and talk this out. They counties want EVERYONE to be safe, not just the “English.” Is the only issue the fact the counties want orange triangles? Surely, for the sake of peace and safety, they could come to an agreement on another color (white?) or shape.

      Just me two cents.

      1. Good points Melissa, thank you. On Beachy, that is quite interesting–what counts as a peer in this case. I hadn’t thought about that. I do not know enough about the case details but will be keeping an eye.

        On KY, courts in other states have been able to reach agreements, typically involving lanterns and a certain amount of reflective tape. The fact that it has come up in two county courts now seems it might be a pattern.

    8. Feedback

      I just got off the phone with an Amish friend in PA, and the Mullet beard-cutting case came up. They’ve been getting reports in the paper but nothing like the extensive online coverage.

      I also brought up this blog discussion we are having today with him. He was adamant on the point that “once you break the law, it’s not a religious issue anymore”. He is not Swartzentruber, however. And I imagine there’s some flexibility there; we were talking about pretty serious issues (ie, there are certainly cases where religious belief can interfere with obeying laws and rules even if you’re not Amish). But obviously with Mullet’s argument, there’s not going to be a lot of sympathy anywhere.

    9. Alice Mary

      My brain is spinning!

      What an interesting series of posts today! Melissa brings up an excellent question involving a “jury of peers”. Indeed, what would that be in this case? Who would, who COULD they find to sit on a jury deciding an Amish man’s fate?

      I know I asked this question before (relating to Amish using the orange triangles). Do (don’t??) Amish obey stop signs, traffic signals? In particular, do the Ky Amish in this case obey these “laws”? If so, then why not the triangle? If they obey a “governmental/worldly/whatever it’s perceived as” stop sign or traffic signal, it seems the triangle is in pretty much the same category.

      I agree with those who say the Mullet “marauders” should not hide behind their religion.

      How VERY interesting all of these stories are! I await further details in the days/weeks to come!

      One more thought that popped into my mind, was that in this country, we (say) we belileve that “all men are created equal.” So, if you choose to live here, aren’t you agreeing to that? Whether you’r Amish, Irish, Mexican, Polish…?

      Thanks, Erik…and GreyCatz, etc., for waking me up!

    10. Forest

      I would say that when you break the law, whether you are Amish Mennonite, Baptist, or what have you, you should understand that your actions have consequences. Even if you do it out of a firmly held religious belief. If I, foe instance, in NC, refuse to serve on jury duty out of a firmly held belief that it is not what God wants me to do, then I have to do so knowing that I may end up in jail for contempt of court, since NC has no provision/exemption for that. We sometime do what we feel led to do, fully aware that the state authorities may punish us for breaking their laws. But to break the kaw knowingly, and then object to facing the penalty on religious grounds, is to me, a dodge. Our breaking the laws of the state to uphold the laws of God should be a testimony to the world, and our actions should be consistent with the teachings of scripture.

      In the three cases you mention, these actions, at least from my perspective, were neither consistent with Scripture nor were they showing a testimony of love, concern, and forgiveness for their neighbors. Addressing the SMV case, I believe the Swartzentrubers should prayerfully examine their decision and how it impacts the safety of their families and non-Amish neighbors.

      Beachy sinned, broke the law, and hurt a lot of folks. Can/should he be forgiven by the the brotherhood? Yes, certainly, when he repents and does alll he can to make amends. Should be be punished by the state? Same answer; as a Christian he should expect to be punsihed.

      Now as for Mullet; he does not seem to be either Amish or Christian, but is trying to use the cloak of religion to escape the consequences of his folly. I will note however, that he’s not the only religious “leader” in the US to do that.

      Just my 1.75 cents

    11. Tom


      The vast majority of the Amish in KY obey the traffic laws. The Old Order Amish do not understand why the Swartzentruber refuse to make such basic concession.

    12. Eli S

      If Mullet or any of the Bergholz clan showed up at the Canadian or US border, they would present their birth certificate and other such documentation as required from the Amish. Their mode of dress is correct and so is their language. How can anyone prove whether they are Amish? There is no central authority that authorizes the designation of Amish or not Amish. A few people saying “They are not Amish” proves nothing. Sam could (and would) deny that claim very easily. What is that makes someone Amish? When do they become a cult? There is no agreement on that, so no one is sure. Interesting to watch how this will sort out.

      1. Eli, thanks for the comment, you do bring up a good point about no central authority. I’m sure a number of things they do jibe with Amish practice and appearance.

        But they’ve also methodically attacked other individuals, as well as file a $35 million lawsuit against the local sheriff’s office following a raid during the 2007 sex abuse case, for starters:–Amish-clan-attacks-family.html

        I don’t know a lot of Amish that would sanction either of those activities. By their fruits you shall know them?

    13. Al in Ky.

      I have a couple of questions regarding the SMV sign issue amongst
      the Swartzentruber Amish in Ky. How long have there been
      Swartzentruber Amish in Ky? I think the settlement in Hardin
      County has been there for a number of years. Has the SMV sign
      been an issue in Hardin County? I think the Graves County and
      Grayson County settlements may be newer. Why is the SMV
      sign becoming an issue now? I realize it has to do with traffic
      laws, but is there something else that is making it an issue at the present time — such as general negative sentiment against the Amish in Graves and Grayson counties? Have there been a number
      of traffic accidents involving Amish/non-Amish in those counties?
      I support the use of SMV signs on all slow moving vehicles, but
      I do have these additional questions. (Even though I live in
      Ky., I haven’t read anything about these questions being asked
      or answered. ) While the issue of SMV signs is being addressed
      by the legal system, hopefully they will further address problems
      and make stricter laws about by such problems as cell phone usage while driving and driving under the influence of alcohol.

      1. KY Swartzentruber Amish origins

        Great questions Al–I don’t have answers for a lot of them, but on the KY Swartzentruber communities origins, Graves Co started in 2002, and it looks like Grayson must have been just in the past few years. The Hardin County Swartzentruber group dates to 1991. Not sure if that is the oldest but it might be (this is all via David Luthy’s Amish Settlements in America guide).

        Maybe some KY locals or others who’ve been following it closely can offer insights as to why these cases are coming now, and in two different places.

        1. Al in Ky.

          Thanks for the reply, Erik. I’m going to ask my Swartz. friends
          in Orange, Co., Indiana if any of them know the reason for this
          being a current issue. Several Amish in that community have
          relatives in Ky. who have been arrested. I may also call the
          ACLU office in Louisville to see if anyone there has some insight,
          because I think there is an ACLU attorney still working with the
          Graves County case.

      2. Lattice

        Driving on public roads is a “social” event. We expect that everyone will do their part to follow the rules of the road, keeping everybody safe. I have on two occasions – at dusk with a little drizzle and no excess of speed, mind you – nearly driven right into a Swartzentruber buggy. I would NEVER be the same if I injured or killed someone. It would haunt me for the rest of my life – ruin my life! I believe it’s fair to allow the Swartzentrubers to drive their buggies anywhere they want to without reflective tape or SMV Triangles…except on public roads.

    14. Lowell

      Iowa Old Order Steel Wheel Trial

      Another interesting case that has not had as much press is the Iowa Supreme court hearing a case of Mitchel County vs. 13 year old Matthew Zimmerman.
      It is a case where a 13 Old Order Mennonite boy was charged after driving a steel wheel tractor on hard top roads while pulling a wagon full of produce to the local produce auction. The county was concerned that the steel wheels might ruin the roads.

      I have not heard the final ruling on this case.


    15. I’m posting this for James, who wasn’t able to post for some reason:

      “I don’t know to what degree county legal policy is shaped by state legal authorities.”

      A county or city may make laws (called ordinances in Indiana) that are more restrictive than state laws, as long as the regulations do not violate state or Federal laws, rules, or freedoms (just as states may do in relation to Federal laws). An example is that many cities have bans on smoking in workplaces, while there is no state law regarding that. However, a county or city may not set aside or diminish a state or Federal law.

      Prosecution for a crime or infraction (e.g. traffic violation) is usually at the discretion of a prosecutor (usually a county-level position), who usually bases the decision on the facts of the particular situation.

      If a court decision is appealed, and the appellate court decides to “publish” (print in the official court reporter), then the decision of the appellate court is binding on all lower courts in the state.

      James Stytle
      Crawfordsville, Indiana

    16. Beverly

      Interesting Reading!

      GreyCatz you really got an interesting discussion going! In fact everyone has been very interesting. I live in Utah, near Salt Lake City and have Mormon pioneer decendents (myself, but non Mormon), Lutherans, Catholics, Episcopals and a number of devoute Muslim cousins counted among what is effectively close family. There is drama aplenty! That said, as I look at your post and understand there is a broader concept going, really each of these issues deserve their own airing. I am very indignant of the Mullets, a bit unhappy with the lack of concern for the safety of others by the group who refuse to use safety warnings and can only say that using a broker just makes you “broker”, while very deeply sympathizing. Perhaps this is really what America is all about, the often wrenching, frequently humorous and downright ready for HBO lives we live. Perhaps we each see in the Amish something we need, lessons refreshed or just plain some needed nostalgia. That’s a peaceful enough path and should lead us a bit closer to the Lord as we each understand Him.

    17. GreyCatz

      Nostalgia revisited.

      To Beverly et al.:

      I agree completely with the nostalgia aspect. A lot of people on this site, myself included, tend to project their own life, such as it is, on the Amish – and it’s difficult not to. With their humble demeanour and unobtrusive faith, they seem to embody an almost ‘saint-like’ attitude towards some of the most important things in our lives: Religion and social relations.

      The three cases referred to in this article serve to remind us that being Amish involves much more than just quaint dresses and a simpler life-style. The most important lesson I’ve learnt from Erik’s excellent site is that the Amish have to deal with compromises almost on a daily basis. It’s a seemingly never-ending ‘struggle’ to align their deep religious conviction with that of a fiercely secular society.

      Another important lesson is that the Amish, ‘surprisingly’, are humans, too. The Bergholz case, unresolved as it is, and the investment fraud case merely illustrate that Amish can in fact go crazy, just like everyone else.

    18. It seems when our lives feel complicated, our minds want to retreat to simpler and better times, and the Amish seemingly live out that nostalgia. I like what Columnist Doug Larson wrote, “Nostalgia is a file that removes the edges from the good old days.”

      GreyCatz, your conclusion is well-stated. To take this one step further, because of this perception of the Amish, things such as investment fraud, refusing to follow safety standards of the state, and abuse tend to be tolerated, or at least soft-peddled, when we don’t tolerate such things inside of any other culture or subculture. Because of our need for a model of a good society (and where else can we possibly find that if not in the Amish?) we tend to look away when wrongs are committed in their communities.

      Even though I grew up Amish, I find myself going down the path of nostalgia about some of the aspects of Amish culture at times. But I also endured abuse of every kind in my childhood, so when I hear about allegations of abuse among the Amish, I cannot look away. The bizarre beard-cutting incident may be useful in drawing attention to the more serious abuses in the Bergholz community. I’ve stated this on my own blog, and I will state it again here: It seems to me the allegations of physical and sexual abuse going on within the Bergholz community should be of much greater concern than the allegations that Bishop Sam Mullet is behind the beard cutting incidents. Hair grows back much more quickly than children heal from abuse.

      Perhaps we can still learn from the Amish, even as we recognize that they are human with the same potential for doing good or evil as anyone else. They obviously have something to teach us, otherwise we wouldn’t care so much about what happens in cases such as the three that Erik outlined in this post.

      Thanks Erik, for this thought-provoking post.