Kentucky Bill Would Allow Safety Tape for Amish Buggies

The Amish in Kentucky would not have to display reflective safety triangles on their horse-drawn buggies if a proposal by a state legislator becomes law.

Rep. Johnny Bell, a Glasgow Democrat, has sponsored a bill to allow the buggies to use reflective tape rather than the slow-moving vehicles signs that the Amish object to on religious grounds. The bill would amend KRS.189.820.

The House Transportation Committee, chaired by Democratic Rep. Hubert Collins of Wittensville, heard testimony on the issue Tuesday, and Collins indicated that he would be open to considering the alternative.

A Kentucky Amish community that is part of the conservative Swartzentruber sect has appealed to the Kentucky Supreme Court to rule on whether the law requiring the reflective signs violates their religious freedom under the First Amendment.

Several men from the community were jailed this month in Graves County for refusing to pay fines for traffic violations.

The Amish argue that their safety, even on roads, is directed by God, and they reject the man-made emblems.

Bell said Tuesday the reflective tape would cover a larger area and is more highly visible than the triangles.

“I don’t think it would be an issue of safety,” Bell said.

He added that the bill is “broad” enough so that the alternative would apply to any slow-moving vehicle, and it does not make an exception to the law for a religious group.

Rep. Ron Crimm of Louisville, a Republican, has filed a similar bill, HB 114, which differs from Bell’s in that it also requires the buggies to have lanterns on the sides at night. But he attended the meeting in support of Bell’s proposal.

Judges, Crimm said, need to have an alternative to “throwing somebody in jail who has no business being there.”

Crimm said he has talked with some Amish in Kentucky who told him they have a problem with the triangular shape of the signs because they believe it “represents infinity.” And they don’t like the yellow or orange color of the signs because “they don’t want to draw attention to themselves.”

The Amish, however, consider the tape an acceptable alternative, Crimm said.

Collins was concerned about how the color of the reflective tape should be referred to in the bill. He wanted the bill to require “white” reflective tape rather than gray or silver because people might not think gray is a highly visible color.

But Bell said the gray or silver tape is called “white.”

“The reason they call it white is because at night that’s what it looks like when the light hits it,” he said.

Kate Miller, a program associate for the Kentucky chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said after the meeting that several states have alternatives like the ones Bell and Crimm are proposing, including Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee.

She said the Amish in Graves County are already using the reflective tape.

The Rev. Patrick Delahanty of the Catholic Conference of Kentucky attended the meeting and said the state’s bishops support the legislation because of the importance of religious freedom.

William Sharp, an ACLU lawyer who is representing some of the jailed Amish men, has filed a brief saying the law requiring the display of the bright orange signs encroaches upon his clients’ “spiritual relationship with God because it is contrary to the Bible’s admonition to shun those things that are `of the world.”‘

The state Attorney General’s Office has until Feb. 11 to file a response.

Sharp’s filing said that if the men comply with the state law, they will be shunned from their religious community.

The Kentucky Court of Appeals sided with the state in June, saying an exception would not be granted because the law is a condition for “a certain privilege: the use of state roads.”