Twenty-six members of the Amish community appeared in Ashland Municipal Court Friday to address fines levied against them for refusing to comply with Ohio’s new law requiring flashing lights on animal-drawn vehicles. At a hearing in January, the judge suggested that jail time would be coming in April if the fines were not paid.
Predictably, the Amish involved have not changed their stance. And it looks like no one has stepped in from outside to handle the fines (which someone had done for two Amishmen in January). But – the Amish are not going to jail, either. However, the “solution” the judge has arrived at only raises questions. From WKYC:
All 26 members took the stand to contest that they could not and would not pay the fine because it is against their religion. So Judge Good gave them the option of either putting a lien on their properties or performing community service instead.
“Are you going to pay your fines?” Judge Good asked one of the Amish members.
“No, not at this point,” was the response.
“Are you ever going to pay them?” Good asked back.
“Not that I know of.”
“Could you pay them if you had the income or funds?” Good continued.
“Yup, but I can’t pay them for religious reasons.”
The fines range from $50 to $150 each, given the number of citations issued for the traffic violation. Some of the Amish community members who appeared in court on Friday have been cited multiple times.
Ohio State Highway Patrol (OSP) troopers say some elders and bishops in the Amish community are resentful of the new law and are urging members not to obey it.
So what will happen now that Judge Good has ruled out jail time but Amish refuse to pay the fines? The judge has said that he will place liens on their property. Here’s why he decided against jailing them, from the Ashland Source:
On Thursday, Good told them that while they may prefer jail, an Ohio Supreme Court case prohibits him jailing defendants that refuse to pay fines for non-jailable offenses.
“I’ve tried to be patient, but now it’s to the point where you have pushed the court up against the wall to where I have to decide that I’m either gonna let this go or I’m gonna do everything in my power to affect the fines and costs like I would in any other case involving any other citizen in Ashland County,” he said.
In lieu of jail time, Good could put warrant blocks on their driver’s licenses or send their fines out to collection, but he doubted the Amish “would care about that,” he said.
He could also keep holding hearings every 30 days until they pay. Instead, he told them he will place a judgement lien on their real estate if they haven’t paid their fines or done community service before their next hearings in May.
“That’s an option that’s very attractive to the court and I’ve decided I’m gonna pursue it,” he said.
The liens would accrue interest until the fines are paid off, Good added.
I do have some empathy for the judges in these cases, working with the legal options they have before them. I think Judge Good is probably doing the best he can within the bounds of the law.
Good didn’t want to give jail time, citing Ohio Supreme Court precedent. That would also have the potential to create some very bad nationwide PR (as in a similar case in 2011 in Kentucky).
He arrived at applying a lever on their real estate, which on the one hand might be have the most potential to force the Amish to pay the fines (or have them paid by a third party). Property in the form of land and the home you live in arguably holds more importance for the Amish than for most non-Amish.
It’s where Amish families make a living and spend most of their time in most cases (especially with plainer Amish), tending the soil, or in family-oriented workshops. And it often carries the weight of history in that farms stay in families, passing down the generations.
Kicking the can?
However, and I might be missing something, but I’m not sure this will resolve anything, and may even make things worse.
Because, on the other hand, it also feels like a kicking-the-can-down-the-road measure.
Of course the interest accruing on them would add pressure on the Amish to take care of the fines. A lien on property can create issues when trying to sell the home. It can also allow the lien holder to foreclose on the home. So that would create problems for any Amish who wish to move or sell a house to a relative or community members – or potentially put them in danger of losing their homes altogether.
But if the only way to remove them from the property is to pay the fine, why would the Amish who are taking this stand now be of a different mind in future? Amish from this group have a history of pushing back against change, especially that imposed from the outside. Tradition and “the way things have been done” counts for a lot in this particular Amish group. Here’s the text of a letter written by one of the Amishmen illustrating that, which the judge read aloud:
“The reason I did not pay my fine is for religious reasons. (In) the Ten Commandments verses it says we must honor thy father and thy mother. My dad is 81 years old, and remembers, 60-plus years ago, they had a similar case and the elders thought it too worldly, and we still feel the same way.”
Additionally, the comment about the bishops being “resentful” in the first article is no surprise, and will only make things harder to resolve this way (maybe the lawmakers should have taken this group’s history more into account…but I’m a broken record on that).
So I don’t think this really solves anything. And it might only escalate things. What happens when one of these Amish people wants to do sell their property? Good suggested that if the Amish had a constitutional objection to the law, then they should mount a legal challenge against it.
Now, there is one path presented here that might be palatable to Amish (at least in handling the matter of the current fines) – the alternative “community service” option mentioned in the second article. Honestly I’m not sure how these Amish might view that. Community service on the one hand might appeal to some Amish in that it is providing some sort of good for others. But – does performing community service in lieu of paying a fine for a violation equate to admitting guilt?
It also might depend on what type of community service is permitted in this program. If it means traveling to cities to clean up parks or working somewhere outside of their own environment, that might be a non-starter. But perhaps there are forms of community service that would be both accessible, and acceptable to this plainest group of Amish (which it should be noted does not hire drivers).
But again, that would depend on the community not seeing performing community service as tantamount to admitting guilt. That’s at least part of what is preventing them paying they fines, which they all could do from a financial standpoint.
That all noted, it’s not like it would solve things long-term. In all likelihood, the Amish in this case are not going to put lights on their buggies and start complying with the law. Presumably they will just continue to be cited in future, and this process will repeat itself. So I’m not seeing how this is headed towards any sort of long-term resolution right now.