Two weeks ago we learned of the first group of Amish cited for not adhering to the new Ohio buggy light law. And now, a second unsurprising report from another part of the state. Amish in two other Ohio counties have been cited for failure to comply with the law:
ST. CLAIRSVILLE — A new law requiring Amish buggies and other animal-drawn vehicles to be equipped with flashing yellow lights took effect in August, and cases of non-compliance already have come before courts in Belmont and Monroe counties.
The legislation – Ohio House Bill 30 — was written in an effort to prevent traffic crashes involving buggies. But some Amish communities are objecting, reportedly on the grounds that the law infringes on their religious liberties.
Monroe County Prosecutor James Peters said a group of about a half-dozen Amish went before County Court Judge Jason Yoss last Wednesday, having been cited for failure to comply.
Monroe and Belmont Counties are on the state’s eastern border with West Virginia. There are over 600 Amish in the Monroe County settlement, and the Belmont County group is either a single full-sized church, or four churches (it’s not indicated in the linked population tables).
So it looks like the enforcement side is going to pause itself while the Amish and civil authorities try to figure out what to do with this. I think this basically means that the Amish need to decide they’ll comply, or they will be cited again. But at least the enforcement side is giving them a chance to confer:
Charges were temporarily dropped while the group and county officials worked out the situation.
There was a meeting Monday between members of the Amish community around Jerusalem and Peters and Sheriff Charles Black about the prospect of complying with the law. Peters said the meeting was closed to the public and the results were inconclusive.
“We did meet with about 10 members of … the elders of the local Swartzentruber Amish community, and they kind of discussed their position that their religious beliefs do somewhat prevent them from having the flashing amber light,” he said.
“It sounded like not only do they have to run it through their local community, but their local community as part of the larger Swartzentruber sect that involves some people in the northern part of the state.
This would presumably mean conferring and coordinating something with the larger Swartzentruber groups in the Holmes/Wayne County community and Ashland/Medina County (the ones cited in the previous story). But the part about charges being temporarily dropped is a bit confusing because it sounds like they’ll continue to cite Amish drivers regardless:
“It sounds like they are going to attempt to speak with their entire community and determine how they would like to proceed. In the meantime, since it sounds like there won’t be any compliance with the law in the immediate future, we basically informed them that the sheriff’s department will begin reissuing citations to those that are not in compliance and are found on the roadway, and then we will just prosecute them on our end as we would any other offense.”
Peters said the Amish gave no indication when they might be able to expect a community policy on compliance.
“It didn’t sound like it was going to happen in the immediate future,” Peters said. “We don’t really have any choice but to enforce the law that’s in place now.”
It’s funny because the assumption here seems to be that they’ll actually get that “community policy on compliance”, sooner or later.
“When they might be able to expect” it. I guess the state is pretty confident in its ability to force compliance.
To his credit, Prosecutor Peters noted that the safety issue is not just about lights on buggies:
“I do think with the Amish buggies it is a visibility issue at this point, but just as important as the visibility of the Amish buggy, I also see a lot of individuals passing the Amish buggies … in locations that are not called for. There’s individuals being impatient and are also causing inherent safety risks … but absolutely the lighting does help. There are a few people that are complying in the area, and the amber flashing light certainly does draw your attention.”
The bit about a few people complying is of course noteworthy. By the context I believe he’s talking about Monroe County, which would have just the one Amish settlement. And I’m assuming he means Amish people and not just local non-Amish horse enthusiasts. Are these a few members of the Monroe County Swartzentruber group that are bucking the trend?
Alternatively, by “the area”, he may be including Belmont County, which has a second Amish community which may not be Swartzentruber (but I think not). He later notes that the community in the area of Calais “is in compliance.” And for that matter, it sounds like they’re really in compliance: “Their buggies are lit up like Christmas trees. They’ve got front lights, rear lights and the required flashing amber light, the ones that I’ve seen.” Translation: not a Swartzentruber group (and not close).
In Belmont County, Amish are using the religious liberty defense:
Belmont County Assistant Prosecutor Joseph Vavra, who prosecuted the case, said the Amish residents objected to the law based on their religious beliefs.
“That was essentially the defense. There were 12 separate cases of 12 individuals who were all charged around the same time and they all came up for trial together. They were consolidated for trial,” Vavra said. “The main spokesperson for all 12 was the bishop, and that was essentially the defense, that … to comply with this law would be a violation of their religious beliefs. … The judge did give them the opportunity to comply with the law.”
Vavra added that their options include taking the matter to the court of appeals or approaching lawmakers and asking them to change or modify the law.
Of course that last part is of interest here too.
But how often do lawmakers return to their freshly-minted legislation and ask for a re-do?
It seems that would take more humility than is typical for the profession. But maybe the Amish example can lend some inspiration to the two lawmakers in question here.