Amish Sect's Buggies a Traffic Burden for Some Kentucky Residents

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To many, the sight of an Amish buggy conjures thoughts of a simpler time, far from the worry of the modern industrialized society.

But to some residents in Mayfield, Ky., they’re just annoying.

“They’re constantly in your way,” said Richard Knolton as he walked in a vacant lot across the street from Mayfield’s state police headquarters

“They go too slow, and you can’t see them. They’re dangerous. ”

For years, Knolton has been staging a letter campaign against the Swartzentruber -- a strict Amish sect who live life like it’s the earlier 20th century, stopping time in 1913.

Unfortunately to Knolton, they’re also stopping traffic.

“They cause accidents. They’re a safety hazard,” he said

Recently, the state police responded by trying to enforce a state law which requires all slow moving vehicles to display a brightly-colored orange triangle.

It’s a symbol the Swartzentruber say violates their beliefs and lifestyle

“This is an infringement on their religion,” says Bill Sharp. “The Swartzentruber Amish take a very expansive and literal interpretation of the Bible's admonition in Romans ‘to be not conformed to this world.’”

"To them that admonition requires that they reject displaying the orange triangle," he said.

Sharp is an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky, which is now representing eight Amish men who were jailed for refusing to display the triangle.

“It’s a worldly symbol,” said Sharp. “Its fluorescent red and orange color is contrary to their avoidance to their displaying loud or extravagant displays of color.”

“I understand their concerns,” said Fred Nessler, "but it’s a safety issue.”

Nessler is a state Representative from Mayfield and he says religion or not, the Amish must use the triangle.

“Whenever you don't have that safety emblem on the back of a buggy or slow moving vehicle it causes a safety hazard in our state,” he said. “We have hundreds of miles of narrow roads which they drive these buggies on, and it's a terrible problem.”
Sharp says the Amish are well within their rights.

“The ACLU of Kentucky maintains that Kentucky’s constitution properly limits government authority from imposing substantial burdens on individuals’ religious freedom unless the restriction is necessary to promote a compelling governmental interest.”

He says the Swartzentruber are seeking to get permission to use a gray reflective tape that will not violate their beliefs.

“Our clients are very committed to roadway safety for themselves, their families and the public,” he said. “They are willing to use and in fact do use reasonable alternative safety measures on their buggies to improve their visibility.”

Not good enough, according to Nessler.

“I think that the reflective tape does not reflect as much as they want to indicate that they do. I think the orange triangle is just much safer device.”

The Kentucky Supreme Court recently agreed to hear the case, which could be argued in early 2012.