Amish vs. e-taxes–is this really a controversy?

The New York Department of Taxation and Finance is now requiring electronic filing of sales tax returns.  And it’s causing some Amish in New York problems.

Apparently there is an out–those lacking internet access can request an exemption.  If they don’t, they face a $50 fine.  Some Amish have been hit with this fine, though it’s not clear why–by the article, it sounds like a mix-up.

amish electronic taxes new york
Four-letter word?

An Amishman in the article describes the e-tax issue as being “of grave concern to Amish businesses”.

A couple points.  Fifty bucks is not spare change, but I think most Amish companies could afford that to be able to go on filing paper returns.  And what if it were called a “non-electronic filing fee” instead of “fine”?   Wouldn’t that change how the issue is colored?

I am not Amish, and I can’t get out of certain expenses and requirements placed on me (ie, DMV fees, ATM charges, etc).  Businesses charge extra for non-favored means of transactions (for instance, receiving money by check rather than a bank transfer often incurs an extra fee, as do many transactions which consume greater resources like labor, postage, and paper).

I’m the first one to root for the little guy against the tax man.  And I’m against gratuitous fees, whether imposed by the government, banks, or other businesses.  But stacked up against dilemmas such as the SMV triangle, building codes, and schooling, is this really such a “grave concern” for the Amish?

I sympathize with Amish on some points, but on others, there seems to be much ado about little.  Maybe the reporter here was just keen on a story involving the Amish.  In any case there is an exemption provided so even the fee need not apply.

The real issue?

I think there is a greater point here.  Choosing to live Plain incurs costs just as other lifestyle choices do–i.e. if I choose to live in a flood zone, to drive an SUV, or to smoke two packs a day, I am taking on certain costs created by my choices.

I support the idea of religious liberty and making allowances for non-traditional practices.  But if there is an avenue provided to avoid an objectionable requirement (in this case a somewhat high–in my opinion–but not prohibitive fee), I would just consider that a cost of my lifestyle choice and deal with it.

I think the public is for the most part sympathetic to the Amish.  But when every little issue and fee turns into a big news story, Amish run the risk of losing public support.  This is sympathy which may come in handy when they need to stand their ground elsewhere on more consequential matters.

I understand that Amish practice varies and some groups wouldn’t make a big deal out of it.  But for all intents and purposes all Amish are in the same game together.

The public for the most part views Amish society as one collective group–so if conservative Amish are making an issue out of a minor point, this becomes a complaint coming from “the Amish” as a whole.

To illustrate this point, I got an email from someone this weekend dissatisfied with what he described as poor work done by an Amish construction crew.  As a result of the bad experience he stated that he has lost his respect for “the Amish”, and would never hire an Amish person again.  One experience with one Amish group becomes “the Amish” as a whole.

So, some Amish groups may clash with the government over certain issues, but I think this kind of thing could hurt all Amish in the long run.

What do you think?

Related posts:
Amish in New York
Amish Furniture – New York

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    1. Reasons the Amish are right on the e-file tax issue

      I like the idea that the US and State governments are doing more things online as this just means smaller government and more efficiency. Why not put most government functions online? Hence, less of my tax dollars are going to manual checks of paperwork.

      However, to slap a penalty on the Amish or anyone else who chooses to opt out of e-filing is a little bit too much.

      1)Religious reasons alone should exempt the Amish from this fee
      2)The poor are the ones that tend not to do business online. Therefore this is just a tax on the poor and an exemption for the rich
      3)Fees are a form of taxation many people do not count, but add up.
      4)What if we were to pass a European style VAT? It could happen you know. The Amish way of life could be really hampered if every transaction has to be filed electronically every month.

      Therefore, I just do not like it. I am curious if the Amish have any local congressman who will help them on this?

      1. miri

        spot on

        Couldn’t agree more. I live simply and don’t have internet access at home. No one should be punished for trying to save money. There is no law that says one must have internet access. This make me so ANGRY.

    2. Lindsay

      It seems like $50 is a bit steep…I’m guessing the number is maybe more for deterring people to file via paper rather than the actual cost for filing.

      Then again, do Amish not typically hire accountants for their businesses?

      But the article did a decent job of pointint out the group in the article is a more conservative group.

    3. Richard

      I think the government surprisingly has been fairly understanding when it has come to the Amish challenging any new or existing laws . For example regarding photos for voter cards, Amish voters in Pennsylvania would be included in a requirement to show government-issued identification in each election under legislation approved by the state House last week, but they could get an exemption from the requirement for a photo on the ID card. So i have to say that the government seems to be at least trying to work with the Amish, showing extremely rare sensitivity which the government is not known for.

    4. Robin Wyatt

      I think the fee is ridiculous. I do not file electronicly,I am not in New York or am I Amish, But, if it is in one state it will be in more. I think the government needs to rethink this. There are times that I couldn’t afford the stamp when filing my taxes let alone a $50 fine/fee. If the states govenment or fedral government needs money that dang bad, cut their salaries,quit funding stupid stuff, ect. and leave our already decreasing income alone. $50 dollars is alot of money either way you look at it , a fee or fine. It could buy shoes, a few days of food, medicines,a 1/2 tank of gas, a bail of hay, or what ever.Granted this is only my thoughts. Robin Wyatt

    5. Richard

      (click my name to go to Amish Stories)…..The government has always spent our money like a school bus filled with starving high schoolers heading for a burger king, so they have always lacked any fiscal sense with our money. New York is a very expensive state to live-in, with some businesses now leaving the state for more reasonable taxes elsewhere. Richard from Pennsylvania.

    6. NY Amish tax issues

      Mark good points. Do you think this is philosophically any different since it applies to businesses, and not individuals, say for income tax returns? It seems income tax would apply to all citizens, while the sales tax situation, only to business owners. I’m not saying small businesses need any further tax burdens, but it seems like one is universal and the other no.

      Robin my first reaction is also that the $50 fee is high. And Lindsay as you point out it possibly be more a deterrent than anything. But if they have to keep an extra high-paid employee or two on payroll to deal with manual filings then it may be justified (I’m refraining here from commenting on compensation levels of government employees which as I understand are generally pretty generous).

      However, for some reason I am skeptical that the NY tax bureau labor costs were actually trimmed by them taking this action.

    7. Alice Aber


      I have to agree in that perhaps they are making too much out of this, and one group can effect the whole on how they are perceived. I too would not want to file electronically even though I have a computer. I have had to file some other things electronically and have often worried if there was a mistake once you hit the send button it is hard to go back and fix it or even review it.

      Here in Illinois it is not required to file sales tax electronically but they sure are pushing you in that direction. I imagine someday it will be required. There are other down falls to filing electronically, one, the paper copy. I can not get a paper copy to print out in this state when I file electronically, I get a receipt type thing but it does not show all I feel I need. I had another time where it was showing I had sent it on my end, gave me the receipt to print out but the state sent me a nasty letter saying I never filed. Even with the receipt it took over 6 months to get the mess straightened out and I wound up paying some fines in the meantime that were never reimbursed.

      Personally, if I were given the option of filling out some paperwork to get the exemption and the ability to file the traditional way of paper and us mail I would do that and just go on about my business.

      Blessings, Alice

    8. Barb

      The article says that the $50 fine is if you ignore the law and don’t request an exemption. Nothing is preventing the Amish owners from requesting that exemption — and then they would not owe a fee. I personally think it should be a “non-issue”. A law was passed, a method was developed to accommodate those unable (for any reason, not just the Amish) to follow the new method and wish to continue with the old method. If the owner does neither — file electronically or request a waiver — then and only then is he subject to the fine. It is not, according to the article, a “fee” for non-electronic filing, but rather a fine for not choosing to do one of 2 things. It appears to be free to request the waiver. The Amish are not being singled out or charged unnecessarily — but they do have to follow directions.

    9. Amish perspective on tax requirement

      Richard, I think you are right here too–it wasn’t really explained in the article but the exemption was out there and it seemed the Amish that met the fine maybe didn’t know about it?

      But I do think the agency is pretty understanding here by providing the exemption. I just don’t think this is a very important story in the grand scheme of issues affecting the Amish. But I see it is already getting picked up by other news outlets.

      My main point is that with more and more stories like this I think people may be in danger of getting “Amish fatigue” in future.

      We have been swamped with Amish media pieces of all kinds in the past few years. The ones which focus on controversial-type topics, pointing out how Amish don’t want to follow this or that rule (however justifiably from their standpoint) can make the casual reader begin to think that all Amish just want to freeload and not follow the rules, even in what seem like minor matters. I can see where some of the negative stereotypes might come from about Amish, and also myths like “Amish don’t pay taxes”.

      This is just bad press and to little benefit to the Amish, it seems to me–it’s fifty bucks, not jail time, not children being forced to go to high school, prevented from working, etc. Call it a fee rather than a fine so the Amish won’t feel like they are admitting guilt, and move on.

      Calling something like this a “grave concern”, like the Amishman apparently did, doesn’t do you much good when more serious matters may come to a head. “Grave” just seems like an exaggeration in this case. Using that kind of language here diminishes other more important issues.

    10. Negative headlines for Amish

      Alice, I do agree there is something about having a paper copy in hand. Businesses and government are heading in this direction though. I guess we’ll continue to see more and more done electronically.

      I am all for it if they actually take steps to work more efficiently and reduce costs elsewhere, which seems to me the point (and if they make it easy to get a paper copy when you actually need one). I imagine businesses do become more efficient, but I’m more skeptical that gov’t agencies would.

      Barb, you are right…this just seemed like an unnecessary story. But I am guessing the headlines alone will feed negative perceptions, ie the myth that Amish don’t pay taxes.

    11. Nancy Lynn


      I think this is ridiculous. Why don’t they leave the Amish alone.
      Set up one special department for Amish only, as there are enough of them in the States and allow all the snail mail to go there. It would not only give people a job but…. they would have all the paperwork for the Amish so the workers would always be familiar with their deductions and necessary claims allowed.
      I feel the governments are trying to hard to take over people’s lives and dictate to others their own ideas of what they should do.
      They are an ethnic group of their own and should be allowed to stay that way.
      They live in their own world and do very well with only grade 8 educations and I do notice that at markets and businesses shoppers go to their booths first.
      Maybe we should be taking a few lessons from them on how to live.
      One thing about it, they definitely know how to live if the power grid goes down.

    12. Stephen B.

      Good points all, especially about the Amish possibly objecting to too many things.

      Still, I object.

      I’ve seen this electronic filing requirement coming for some time. Personally, I strongly disagree that electronic filing is more efficient. Rather, what widespread use of tax software and filing programs have done is allow government to make tax laws and filing even more complicated. For example, I have some investments and have taken some gains and losses over the years. I have some tax loss carry forwards and some time ago I came to the conclusion that without using tax software or a tax professional (who is almost certainly using tax software of his/her own), said taxes would be just about IMPOSSIBLE to file correctly. Look at how the number of IRS forms, rules, checkoffs, and procedures has mushroomed. Ditto for a lot of accounting rules and procedures in general. Do any of us think that Americans (everybody, not just the Amish) think that tax laws, returns, and accounting codes in general would be nearly as humongous if individuals and corporations were still using accounting tools of the 1940s and 50s?

      I didn’t think so.

      $50 or $500, the point is that by requiring electronic filing, it is taking some of the computational burden off the populace, freeing govt. to add further complexity to the whole tax and economic system. The Amish simply want to not be coerced into participating in this overly complex, nightmarishly web-like system.

      Nancy is right. Govt. IS trying very hard to take over our lives and one way they’re doing that is through complex state and federal tax laws and tax returns that examine and report nearly every aspect of our lives, from the types cars we drive or don’t drive, what we do to our houses, how many kids we have, what we invest our money in, how our health is going, etc., etc., etc., and by getting everybody to file electronically, the govt. makes it easier for itself to tie itself into our lives even more.

      Too bad the Amish are going to lose this battle.

    13. Tamara

      Erik, you expressed concern about this article promoting “Amish stereotypes” (along the lines of not paying their share of taxes, etc.) On a recent visit to the home of a Plain family, I saw some new construction. Evidently, since they sell produce to large companies, there are numerous, seemingly absurd guidelines they must follow. They had to build a small building to house chemicals – it looked like something that could safely store nuclear waste; They had to buy a very expensive looking tank for something – can’t remember what exactly, they are required to keep all animals penned (even ducks, chicken, and geese) AT ALL TIMES during the growing season, and they claim that their product has to meet standards that seem to be higher than that of produce typically found in groceries (they’ll only accept perfection from them.) They also have frequent inspectors come by unannounced. They weren’t complaining, really. This came up while explaining how the big farming operations make it difficult for the small farmers to compete, and all these costly guidelines are one reason why. It’s a good thing that the Plain people are accustomed to abiding by rules, some that may not even make sense. Big business has pushed out the small farming operations in the English world already.

      By the way, at what point do their businesses have to report? Are they required to file for each of the little roadside stands and “in home” sales?

    14. Tamara


      In case the point wasn’t clear (I’m afraid it wasn’t)… We’re all aware of legal concessions that have been made in order that the Plain groups can live according to their religious beliefs, and I realize some people don’t like that, but from what I can see, the Plain groups are going “above and beyond” in order to thrive – or to just get by in this competitive world. If I am going to hold to a stereotype, I choose this one.

    15. Lance

      Any one notice that $50 fee/fine is ‘per return’. How often do New Yorkers have to file sales tax forms? Quarterly? Monthly? That could be a big penalty if it is monthly, $600 per year! More than a computer costs!

    16. Lance

      Anyone else notice how many times recently hackers have been able to steal personal information from online databases? Twice this year, Sony’s Playstation database has been hacked. If your SSN and credit card info were there, you have been hacked! Your identity can be stolen and abused. I read headlines of bank databases being hacked too. I am really valuing the minimal electronic footprint that the non-electronic Amish have. Be ye not conformed!

    17. Lindsay

      It seems as if the government is darned if they do and darned if they don’t. If they keep on people to deal with the paper returns, people complain that is costing the taxpayer too much money. If the government goes to electronic filing to cut costs, people complain about the government getting too big.

      It’s just a rhetorical question, but where do you find balance?

    18. Eli S

      The point you make about having the public goodwill is exactly where I fear Amish may eventually lose out. As a parent we know that we should choose our battles wisely or else our children will eventually disregard all discipline. So it is with spending our goodwill capital.

      Most Amish do try to get along with their fellow citizens. The most conservative sector is always the most rigid in their approach. That’s only natural. I do support their objection to e-tax as it would seriously alter their lifestyle.

      But I fear as well when you stand rigid on every request, goodwill may disappear and that would make life miserable for the entire Amish groups across the country. That’s why I wish they would adopt some measures such as SMV emblems or good lighting of buggies.

    19. NY Amish and sales tax return requirements

      I just hunted down the NY sales tax info.

      Lance as to your point on monthly, quarterly, and annual, it looks like $3,000 or less owed on an annual basis means you file annually. It gets a bit more complicated for the next two or three levels but it looks like the cutoff is $300,000 in “taxable receipts, purchases subject to use tax, rents, and amusement charges” for the previous quarter. Here are the details:

      Tamara you asked about reporting requirements…going by the above, your smaller mom and pop home sideline businesses, especially if it is a less prosperous NY Amish community, are probably going to fall into the lower category. Main income businesses look like they’d be in the higher categories. However one bit on the site notes that “Most vendors file quarterly when they first register to collect sales tax.”

      Again the fines don’t seem to apply if people file for the exemption. I imagine after this few Amish in NY will be forgetting to do that.

      Stephen B, interesting points. I hadn’t really considered the effect TurboTax and the like may have had on encouraging complexity.

      And Lindsay interesting question, I’d say as a general principle I’m for simplicity and clarity.

    20. Elam Zook

      To put it mildly, I’m not a fan of your work, but your argument here genuinely advocates for their (the Amish) best interests. Everyone wants to recognize the Amish as people just like us, but too often these efforts forget that there’s a human fallibility involved in that equation. It may be noble of the Amish to seek to not conform to the world. But isn’t it also possible to simply be seeking validation for their way of life? Treating the latter as if it were the former is demeaning. The non-Amish world, including this site has done plenty to encourage the Amish to think that they can’t do anything wrong. This Amish guy thinking that the e-tax issue is of grave concern is the end result of all the flattery they’ve been receiving. Instead of viewing his faith as something that requires sacrifice and commitment on his part, he thinks it means the world should cater to his every whim. Encouraging him in that vein is the most destructive thing one could do to the welfare of Amish society.

    21. Debbie Welsh

      Hear, hear to Robin Wyatt, Nancy Lynn, Stephen B., and Lance for your comments. This is ridiculous, and just another example of our government trying, by hook or crook, to get every last dime out of us. And I’m upset, too, over all this pressure from the banks and IRS to do all of your personal business on-line. Like Lance pointed out, look at all the hackers and what they’ve done to big, supposedly secure, businesses – let alone us little people! Yes, we’re talking about sales tax on businesses here, but you know it won’t be long before they’re doing the same thing for every kind of tax in every state. And it’s not just the Amish who will be penalized, but people like my elderly parents who don’t have a computer, and they still pay every bill by check, and my 83 year old father still does his own income tax returns by hand!

    22. Fees and Fines

      I did run a small home-based business in the US a few years ago; I filed mt sales tax return annually. Most States have similar filing requirements. I would have been caught byt he $50 fine, as I suspect that the NY Tax Revenue office probably announced this…online. If a news agency does not pick up on it, if notices are not mailed to business addresses, those who do not receive electronic communication will miss out. I n some places, electronic ommunication is now considered as in compliance with notification requirements.

      I used to work for tax accountants – so here’s my suggestion. If a business owner does not have the exemption (didn’t know to apply, or wasn’t granted it for some reason) then the business owner can have his/her accountant file it electronically or pay one a small fee ($10 maybe) to file it. We used to file almost all paper “compliance” returns for clients, way back when, before filing electronically was common. Generally, one deposits sales receipts with a receiving “lockbox” (bank holding address) rather than sending in a paper check.

      Erik, I am in agreement with you, this is a tempest in a teapot. But even Amish can get political – and since many are quite conservative, any new government regulation is going to be “grave.” Also, remember that when people are speaking to a news writer, they tend to get quite serious and over-emphasize.

    23. Karen Johnson-Weiner

      Amish v. e-taxes

      The original post noted, “I understand that Amish practice varies and some groups wouldn’t make a big deal out of it. But for all intents and purposes all Amish are in the same game together.”

      There are two issues here. First is the assumption that “the Amish are in the same game”–which, as readers of AmishAmerica know is not the case. Because Ordnungs–the disciplines governing individual church communities–differ greatly, one individual Amish community may be playing with a very different set of rules than others. The controversy has come up in a Swartzentruber Amish settlement–and the Swartzentrubers are not the Amish who have cell phones, specially adapted word processors, or other technology that makes running a business in settlements such as Lancaster County much more like running an English business. In fact, Swartzentrubers will not even make phone calls themselves, preferring to ask an English person to place the call. One Swartzentruber Bishop told me recently that Amish like those in Lancaster are as different from the Swartzentruber Amish as the English are–and he attributed some of the difficulties the Swartzentrubers have with civil authorities to this fact. Swartzentrubers simply don’t act like the more progressive Amish do–and more progressive Amish are not necessary very sympathetic to some of the difficulties their more conservative brethren are having with secular authorities. For the Swartzentrubers, secular insistence on a technology they are unfamiliar with and unwilling to accept is a grave issue–one that they face and other Amish groups might not.

      Which leads me to the second issue–the non-Amish assumption that all Amish are the same and the willingness to ascribe the failings of a particular Amish person/group to all (e.g. the person who has “lost all respect” for the Amish because the Amish contractor he hired did not do a good job). With any other group, of course, we would call this ill-informed bigotry.

      I am a bit troubled by the last comment, “So, some Amish groups may clash with the government over certain issues, but I think this kind of thing could hurt all Amish in the long run.” This both blames the Amish for causing the problem–and blames particular groups for their Ordnungs. Are more conservative groups a problem because their faith has led them to be different than more progressive Amish? If so, then by extension, all of the difficulties could be avoided were the Amish simply to assimilate.

    24. Hi Karen, I do appreciate the feedback–my “same game” comment was intended to be about public sympathy and perception of the Amish and not the Ordnungs of individual groups–Amish are clearly not all the same as you point out, but I think the public often does not differentiate and views an Amishman here and an Amishman there as one and the same (a point which if I remember correctly you made very well in New York Amish, ie with the examples of new, more conservative Amish arrivals to NY behaving differently than previous Amish residents, and English inhabitants being surprised that Group B wasn’t just like Group A–hope I’m getting that roughly right as I don’t have it in front of me 🙂 ).

      I understand the idea of paying a fine may mean admitting some sort of guilt, but if this were called a “paper filing fee” I don’t think it would be as big of a deal, as Amish pay fees for special services when required (not that I think having to pay such a fee is a great idea either).

      And I definitely wouldn’t advocate for the idea that Amish should assimilate. My comment was more on public perception and looking down the road. I thought Eli S made a good point above on choosing your battles. I am not sure the Amish in question in NY would agree, or even be at all concerned with how the public views them, but I thought there might be some wisdom to that.

      Mainly I just think that using language such as “grave concern” may be elevating this issue to a higher plane than it deserves. I’d think a fresh challenge to schooling for example would be more worthy of the term. In any case this seems to be more of a misunderstanding, as an allowance which doesn’t seem to challenge the Ordnung–the exemption–is available.

      I’m sympathetic to the conservative Amish situation but if every issue is described as a grave concern, it seems a bit like crying wolf–and then they might not find themselves in as strong a position to take on the ones that can’t be solved by simply requesting an exemption. Of course maybe there was miscommunication between the reporter and the Amishman there as well.

      I do agree with you that the ‘lost all respect’ comment is painting with a mighty big brush. I’ve noticed that it seems to be easier for people to make blanket comments about Amish even though people would probably hesitate to make the same comments about other ethnic or cultural groups.

    25. Speaking to reporters

      Magdalena I found your comments quite interesting, especially about over-emphasizing when speaking with reporters. That may have been the case here, as I doubt that the Amish gentleman in question had a ton of practice in front of reporters. I remember the first time I spoke with someone from a newspaper; it was slightly nerve-wracking knowing that anything you say could end up in print 🙂

    26. Mackenzie

      I saw one article that said they can request an exemption by phone…with the problem being that not all Amish communities allow phones. So if they could mail a letter or a form to request an exemption, then that’d work for them.

      There’s also the huge possibility that they didn’t even know about the e-filing rule in time to request an exemption, since it’s not like the evening news or the Internet told them.

    27. Elam Zook

      “This both blames the Amish for causing the problem–and blames particular groups for their Ordnungs. Are more conservative groups a problem because their faith has led them to be different than more progressive Amish?”

      Karen, is it too much to ask to expect each group to assume responsibility for the effect their ordnung has on their relationship with the non-Amish? The more progressive Amish have made their choice and they’ll have to live with the consequences. If each group isn’t held accountable for the ordnung choices they make, then how do you keep from turning them into a protected (infantile like) adjunct to the larger society? I’m hoping I don’t need to explain to you the extent such a scenario demeans their original intent of being separate and apart!

      If they choose to be different, then it’s inherently up to them to resolve whatever issues come up. This isn’t blaming them, it’s more like honoring them, having faith in the integrity of their decisions. Exempting them from the consequences of their actions is suicidal, both, for their welfare and the welfare of the larger Amish community’s delicate (strangers in a foreign land) status.

    28. In reading through the original post and then the comments, I have to say I am torn about the whole electronic filing fee/fine and whether the Amish are making too much out of it. Perhaps they should be more discerning in picking their issues.

      I am actually struck much more by the comment “The public for the most part views Amish society as one collective group–so if conservative Amish are making an issue out of a minor point, this becomes a complaint coming from ‘the Amish’ as a whole.”

      Whose responsibility is it that people view Amish society as one collective group? The Amish are very aware of the diversity among their groups. Why is it okay for us to lump them together? Perhaps the responsibility for those of us who know about Amish diversity and have public fora, is to speak out against the generalizations that are normally made about “the Amish.” Erik, I feel you have done the opposite here — you actually used a generalization to make your point. Especially when you used the following example:

      “To illustrate this point, I got an email from someone this weekend dissatisfied with what he described as poor work done by an Amish construction crew. As a result of the bad experience he stated that he has lost his respect for ‘the Amish’, and would never hire an Amish person again. One experience with one Amish group becomes ‘the Amish’ as a whole.”

      There is no other ethnic/religious group in this country in which we could get away with such a statement. If we replace ‘Amish’ with Hispanic, African-American, Roman Catholic, or Jewish and then say we have lost respect for that whole group because of a single experience, wouldn’t we think of that as prejudice? Most of us would — and rightly so. I certainly hope this was your message to the person who emailed you. If not, you missed the opportunity to get the message across that we cannot generalize about the Amish — any more than we can about any other religious or ethnic group.

    29. Tamara

      Saloma made a very good point. Generalizations are so dangerous, yet they seem to be a sort of knee-jerk, “human nature”-type response, albeit of a very evil kind.

      It actually sounded like to me, Erik, that you share Saloma’s concern for generalizations: “We have been swamped with Amish media pieces of all kinds in the past few years. The ones which focus on controversial-type topics, pointing out how Amish don’t want to follow this or that rule (however justifiably from their standpoint) can make the casual reader begin to think that all Amish just want to freeload and not follow the rules, even in what seem like minor matters. I can see where some of the negative stereotypes might come from about Amish, and also myths like “Amish don’t pay taxes”.”

      How can prejudices and stereotypes be stopped? When I hear of the rest of the world’s opinions of Americans, I want to cry, “Wait, that’s not how we all are!”

      Similarly I have on many occasions tried to convince my Plain friends that we don’t watch trash on tv, the kids don’t play videogames all day, nor are all kids on drugs, alcohol, and in gangs. It’s those darned generalizations.

    30. Elam Zook

      Here’s a quote from David Weaver Zercher; “Many tourists, however, are not all that interested in learning about Amish life.”

      To Tamara and Saloma, Just as a indicator of what you’re up against when you want to relate to the Amish as real people. Most people don’t give a bleep, so the tendency is to gloss over specific details. Whenever you do that, you lose the ability to recognize the basic humanity of those being discussed.

    31. Hi Saloma, I have to say I’m really missing where I myself made the generalization in the example you cite about the building crew. Rather I am demonstrating my point that the public tends to generalize by citing someone who did just that.

      If you look at old posts, I think I have a record of pointing out that Amish can be different in many ways. For instance, here are a couple of posts where I directly address this:

      There are many more.

      As for this statement:

      “The public for the most part views Amish society as one collective group–so if conservative Amish are making an issue out of a minor point, this becomes a complaint coming from ‘the Amish’ as a whole.”

      I am simply calling it like I see it. Again, I am not the one making the generalization (unless you’re referring to me generalizing about “the public”, and not the Amish…?). Tamara is right–I am trying to take a realistic look at what the public does.

      I think that much of the public doesn’t differentiate between say an ultra-conservative group and a more ‘mainstream’ one. So when stories like this, or about SMV triangles, or whatever issue, come out, it’s about “the Amish”.

      Most people don’t think “Oh, this only concerns that 5% (or whatever it is) of the xyz Amish that is very conservative”–unless they actually read the article and not just the headline (and assuming the reporter is worth his salt and actually makes the point that it’s a small % of the Amish in question). The public consciousness tends to conflate all Amish into one group (and I can’t say I blame casual observers for that tendency).

      That may be changing a bit as people learn more about diversity within the Amish, but I still think it holds pretty true with your average observer who doesn’t spend a lot of time dissecting the Amish.

      And just to emphasize, the point of this post was not to beat up on conservative groups for the sake of beating up on conservative groups. It was rather to highlight the issue of perception and the effects one group’s actions might have on Amish as a whole.

      In terms of changes that have affected Amish across the entirety of Amish society, public sympathy is not something to overlook. It was a factor in Amish exemptions from Social Security and also in the schooling issue, to give a couple examples.

      The prejudice issue is a somewhat different one and one I think we are in agreement on.

    32. Tamara

      Hey Elam Zook, thanks so much for adding that link to your post. That was a very interesting Q & A (If anyone has trouble bringing it up, I had to stop the browser in order to keep from being redirected to a place where I could no longer find it).

    33. Lissy

      I find Saloma’s comment about how we don’t generalize about other religions/cultures is just not true. I am a Muslim convert. Muslims are all seen as terrorisy, etc. b/c of a few bad apples. It is predjudice and bigotry. I mean, I don’t say “There was an AMish man who was a pedophile so all Amish men are pedophiles! That is just not true. You can never generalize about a whole group. How many people don’t get to really know my husband b/c to them he is “a terrorist” b/c he is arab? ANd look in the sounth, they do generalize and sterotype hispanics and african-americans.
      I am against all sterotyping. DO I do it sometimes b/c I don’t know how to find the real answer? Sure! I make generalizations about arab men. Are most of the false? of course!

    34. David Weaver-Zercher Q and A

      Tamara that link was actually from my old domain, before I moved everything to last year.

      This address should get you to the Q and A with no redirect problem:

    35. Erik, my point is that you used “public perception” to illustrate that the Amish may be using their “public sympathy capital” for something trivial, which in my mind, is condoning the generalizations people often make about the Amish. I am suggesting since you are aware that this happens, maybe it would behoove you to try to dispel these generalizations and myths, as opposed to reinforcing them. If you were not condoning the prejudice that the emailer had developed about Amish contractors, then why use that example at all?

      And this works both ways — I don’t think the Amish should be lumped together whether it’s in a favorable light or an unfavorable one. Elam Zook makes a good point — some Amish individuals I know have gotten used to being catered to — whether they are allowed to go to the front of the line in a restaurant, being driven around at no cost to them, or being exempt from laws the rest of us must abide by. To favor a group of people because of their religion or ethnicity is as prejudiced as its opposite. They should not be allowed to hide behind their religion any more than they should be all be faulted for one carpenter crew’s shoddy work.

    36. Saloma, with all respect, pointing out that a situation exists and “condoning” seem to me like very different things. I don’t know how you get one from the other. Does a crime reporter condone the murders and robberies he writes about? Or the social situations that might exacerbate crime in his town?

      Maybe the fact that I didn’t condemn this assumption publicly in no uncertain terms led you to believe I somehow condone it? I could have easily gone off for a couple paragraphs about how stereotyping and prejudice are bad, etc. But I think that’s pretty obvious. Instead I focused on the Amish side in order to examine the issue from a different angle.

      Again, attempting to dispel generalizations and myths has been a pretty common theme on this site for going on 5 years. Maybe it’s touched a small corner of public perception, I don’t know. Someone like you, coming directly from Amish society, can address certain issues in ways that I can’t.

      Either way, changing public perception is a challenge. In the meantime I think it’s good to address the realities as they are, which may mean using examples to illustrate them. But simply sharing an example doesn’t automatically mean one condones it.

    37. Jay59


      Erik — I’m enjoying your site very much. I found it after reading “The Amish Way” by Kraybill, Nolt, and Weaver-Zercher. I have a few questions that I haven’t been able to find discussed on your site, and I’d love it if you’d address them:

      – I understand from “The Amish Way” that the Amish are not supposed to engage in conspicuous consumption or one-up-man-ship with fellow Amish. I also understand that they don’t have churches or other public buildings for which they could make donations. So what do the Amish do with their money? What happens if you’re Amish and fortunate enough to make a great deal of money? Do you just keep buying more land and livestock?

      – I also understand that the Amish are normally not permitted to bring lawsuits and that they don’t use the legal system to resolve disputes. How do they resolve disputes among themselves? If one Amish wrongs another, is the victim just supposed to take it in silence? If so, doesn’t that enable Amish with strong personalities to walk all over their neighbors?

      – Another question about law. How do the Amish deal with property and inheritance? Do they use lawyers for land transfers and recording deeds? Do they use lawyers for preparing wills?

      I hope these topics are of interest to you. Thanks for the site and all your information!

      1. Amish investing, legal disputes, and inheritance

        Hi Jay, thanks a lot for your questions, and glad you found us! Amish Way is a great book.

        On what Amish do with their money, yes in many cases it is buying land, but some Amish have invested in more conventional financial vehicles like mutual funds, stocks and bonds. There have been some Plain-administered financial funds as well that have attracted a lot of interest and participation from Amish. Unfortunately there was a pretty bad situation on that end out of Ohio last year, where an Amish money manager lost a good bit of his clients’ funds (many millions of dollars) and it seems wasn’t as forthright about it as he could have been:

        Some Amish reinvest in their own businesses or in “start-ups” within the community as well. Conspicuous consumption is frowned upon, but it creeps in in the form of more luxurious vacations, hunting trips, and so on. I’ve seen and been in some Amish homes which you wouldn’t think are Amish homes from the look of them. As you’d expect, this causes some in the church concern.

        For the second question you have a lot of social and community pressure coming to bear in such cases. A member who sins against another and is unrepentant about it and unwilling to do what he can to make amends may be formally admonished and ostracized by the church. It’s not common that it would happen but it has.

        Amish use of lawyers, property, and inheritance is an interesting topic. The book An Amish Paradox addresses this within the large Holmes Co Ohio group: “…land, dwelling and other assets are usually divided equally among the children or in ways that all family members agree is most pragmatic…they tend to be proactive about deeding their assets to their children before they reach old age.” They may give land as a gift to children for a token fee well ahead of old age and death, while reserving a right to live in the home while still alive.

        BTW, Paradox is a highly recommended read if you’re looking for another book on the Amish.

        1. JP59

          Erik, thanks so much for the helpful responses and for recommending Amish Paradox. I just ordered a copy and can’t wait to dig into it.