The Amish here told the judge they prefer jail to paying fines for violating Ohio’s new buggy lighting law. That might seem surprising. But it’s not, if you’ve paid attention to how these things go with Swartzentruber Amish. From Ashland Source:

ASHLAND — A group of eight Amish people refused to pay their fines for their violations of Ohio’s new buggy law in a fines and costs hearing in Ashland Municipal Court on Thursday.

Elmer Hershberger, Mosie Shetler, Andy Swartzentruber, Eli L. Swartzentruber, Henry Swartzentruber, Susan Troyer, Eli J. Yoder, and Levi Yoder all told Judge Fred Oxley that they would not pay their fines because it is against their religious beliefs, opening up the possibility of jail time.

Mosie Shetler, Levi Yoder, and Andy Swartzentruber told Oxley directly that they would prefer jail time over paying the fines.

“I’d rather take the jail,” Swartzentruber said.

Amish appear Thursday in Ashland Municipal Court, Ashland County, Ohio. Image: Ashland Municipal Court

It looks like the Amish can already start making plans for jail in a few months:

He said jail time was a “distinct possibility” for refusing to pay a fine and that the Amish would likely only spend a few days in prison.

After one of the Amish announced his refusal, Oxley told him to be prepared to go to jail on the group’s next court date on April 14 at 1 p.m.

Under Ohio law, people who willingly refuse to pay fines can be imprisoned and earn a $50 credit toward their fines for every day they spend in jail. The majority of the Amish have fines of around $150.

So it appears this story is more or less following the trajectory I’ve been describing, with the blueprint being the 2011 Kentucky Amish SMV emblem controversy.

kentucky amish graves county

A Swartzentruber Amish community in Graves County, Kentucky. Photo: Brett

In that case, at least 18 Amishmen were jailed after also refusing to pay fines for rejecting a mandate to adorn their carriages with the orange SMV safety triangle.

Will the Amish actually end up in jail?

So there is a twist here. Two other Amishmen were also scheduled to appear in court Thursday. However, it looks like they’re off the hook now. It turns out an anonymous person paid their fines, so they did not have to show up.

Will the same thing happen for these other Amish?

Well, I would first ask if that’s what they would want to have happen (assuming there were other good Samaritans willing to pay for them).

Why don’t the Amish just pay their own fines? The reason is that that would be akin to admitting guilt here.

That’s also why I question whether they’d want someone else to do it for them. If I had to guess…they’d never ask anyone to, but might be grateful if others took the initiative to do so.

Getting what they deserve?

Now many people will see these Amish men and women as getting what they deserve for their stance. A lot of comments I’ve read here and elsewhere seem to have little tolerance for this most conservative group of Amish.

I see it differently – yes, the Swartzentruber buggies do suffer from lower visibility. And it would be good to improve the safety of those buggies somehow.

An Amishman is stopped for violating the buggy lighting law. Source: Fox 8

But the method has to be acceptable to the people involved. You can’t just force it on a group, which, if it’s known for anything, is known for its slowness to change (well, I guess you can force it, but then things will predictably get ugly).

However that doesn’t mean complete refusal to change.

I have previously suggested either of two alternatives that would increase visibility and have the added bonus of having actually been accepted in Swartzentruber Amish communities.

Those two are a) expanded reflective material on the rear of the buggy (in the shape of a rectangle or “L”) and b) two short sections of PVC pipe attached to the outer wheel which create an attention-getting, oscillating effect.

Swartzentruber Amish buggy with expanded reflective material and staggered lanterns. North Carolina

In fact, I have heard from someone in Ohio that local Amish have actually taken to using the rectangles now, in what looks like an attempt to offer an alternative as compromise. It’s unknown whether the lawmakers consulted with the Amish on this possibility.

What next?

In the Kentucky SMV case, eventually state law was changed to allow for this plain group’s stance on the matter. But it wasn’t just business as usual after that.

As a compromise, the Amish in question actually adopted buggy enhancements which both improved visibility, and were acceptable to them.

Swartzentruber Amish buggy with minimal reflective markings. Photo: Don Burke

It’s a shame the Ohio lawmakers went ahead with the law in this manner, when there was a widely-publicized example of what would happen from just a decade or so ago. How well do they understand the Amish population they are ostensibly trying to help?

Will the politicians responsible for this Ohio law consider a similar adjustment (like what happened in Kentucky) at this point? Or is Amish-to-jail part of the plan? Maybe that’s just their idea of tough love

I suppose another option is for thousands of Swartzentruber Amish people to “simply” move out of Ohio…

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