Police, Amish at Odds over Horse Buggy Safety Measures

When police cited three Amish men from western Kentucky for not having lights and a slow-moving vehicle symbol on their horse-drawn buggies, it started a conflict between religious freedom and state law.

The Amish men have argued that putting flashing lights and the orange triangular symbol on their buggies would violate their religious beliefs.

Assistant Graves County Attorney Scott Robbins argued that the case is about safety--not religion.

Now, the case is in the hands of Graves County District Judge Deborah Crooks, who heard testimony during a bench trial on Monday. Crooks said she won't issue a verdict until February, after giving attorneys to file case law to support their positions.

During the trial for Jacob Gingerich, Levi Zook and Emanuel Yoder, testimony and arguments boiled down to how to balance Kentucky's law requiring safety symbols on all buggies with religious beliefs that prohibit possessions that are too worldly.

Kentucky statutes have required symbols on slow-moving vehicles since 1971. The requirements for lights and flashers were added in 2005.

"I have trust in God, not in a symbol," Gingerich said Monday during the trial. "I have concern for my family. I have concern for safety on the highway. I stay to the right as much as I can and let cars pass. But I put my trust in God."

Defense attorney Robin Irwin said Crooks' verdict will exceed a traffic code violation and could affect the religious rights of the three men under the First Amendment.

Robbins argued that the men should follow the law.

"I think we're putting the cart before the horse," Robbins said. "This trial has nothing to do with religion. It deals with the law requiring that slow-moving vehicles display an orange placard. And these buggies do not have it."

Andy Stetsman, a liaison between church and government leaders, testified that the Amish men refuse to use the triangular symbol because it is viewed as worldly.

"Our convictions against these emblems are sincere," Stetsman said. "In other states, some have been willing to go to jail."

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The Associated Press


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