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Amish Triangle Trouble

EBENSBURG, Pa. -- The peaceful, rolling hills of Cambria County, Pennsylvania is an unlikely location for a controversial court case. But its here, where Amish buggies gently ply winding country roads, that a clash of cultures is occurring.

Most Amish use a horse-drawn buggy for local transportation, just as centuries of their forefathers have done. But as buggies compete with cars for increasingly clogged road space, more and more restrictions have been placed upon their use. For instance, in Indiana, buggies are required to have a license plate much like a car. And orange reflective triangles are to be affixed to the back of the buggy for easier spotting at night. Most Amish accept the orange triangle and license plates as a necessary compromise for living among the English (as all non-Amish are called).
A sect of Amish in Pennsylvania known for their conservatism has decided to challenge the states law that requires the orange reflective triangle.

Sam Yoder, a member of the Amish community challenging the ordinance, didnt mince words when asked what would happen if they lost the case.

"Then, as close as I can say, we'd have to go, we'd have to leave here," he told a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporter as he walked to his horse and buggy in a borough parking lot.

About 80 members of the sect, the Swartzentruber Amish, have moved to Cambria County over the past four years from Ohio, where they were granted an exception to the triangle rule.

Lawyers for the sect say in a court brief that, unlike other Amish, the group regards the triangle as a vain violation of the biblical commandment to "place faith in God, not in symbols."

"They believe genuinely that God will take care of them ... and if something happens to them, it's the will of God," said Donald B. Kraybill, professor of sociology and Anabaptist studies at Messiah College, near Harrisburg.
Kraybill offered his observations under oath as the Amish accused of 23 of the traffic citations -- 18 months' worth -- went on trial. The Judge won't issue a verdict until Assistant District Attorney Heath Long brings in a transportation expert to testify sometime in May.

Lawyers for the Amish from the Greater Pittsburgh chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and the Pittsburgh firm of Reed Smith Shaw and McClay want the Keystone State to follow Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin and Kentucky, where the triangle mandate is viewed as an infringement on religious liberty.

Failing that, the lawyers want Pennsylvania to follow Ohio, New York and Iowa, which allow the group to use reflective gray tape, which is almost invisible by day, as an alternative.

Experts called by the Amish yesterday said the state rule placed a burden on adhering to a religious tenet and there was a good alternative to the orange-triangle law.

The alternative is outlining the rear of the buggy with the gray tape, said Philip Garvey, who studies traffic warning signs for the Pennsylvania Transportation Institute at Penn State University.

"My opinion is that the [tape] the Swartzentrubers want to use is an adequate and appropriate replacement," Garvey testified.

It's an opinion that Long said he's not buying until he hears from his own expert.

There was no denying danger to horse-drawn buggies in a world of fast-moving cars and trucks.

He was aware of buggies being hit, defendant Levi Zook testified.

But the admission almost was nonchalant.

"They put faith in God for safety," Kraybill testified. "They're much more willing to accept illness [and] death than we are."