Amish men jailed for refusing to pay buggy fines

Graves County deputy Zach Dunigan escorts Ananias Byler to the Graves County Jail after appearing in Graves County District Court in Mayfield, Ky., Jan. 12, 2012. AP Photo

MAYFIELD, Ky. - A group of Amish men were sent to jail in western Kentucky Thursday for refusing to pay fines for breaking a state highway law that requires their horse-drawn buggies to be marked with orange reflective triangles.

The men have a religious objection to the bright orange signs, which they say are flashy and conflict with their pledge to live low-key and religious lives.

Ananias Byler, the first of 10 Amish men due in Graves County District Court on Thursday, was sentenced to 10 days in jail. The men were jailed for being found in contempt of court for refusing to pay the fines. Byler told Judge Deborah Crooks Thursday that he would not pay the $489 he owes.

"I totally understand your objection," the judge told Byler. "But you're in violation, and it's not up to me to change the law. It doesn't really matter what I think about any of this."

Photos: Inside Amish Life

The men belong to a conservative breakaway group of Amish known as Swartzentruber. They live simply, with no electricity, plumbing or appliances. But in recent years they have been running afoul of the law for refusing to use the triangles on their buggies, and some were sent to jail last year.

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The Amish men, wearing long dark coats on a snowy day in Mayfield, removed their black wide-brimmed hats before entering the courtroom. They sat quietly until their names were called.

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Jacob Gingerich said he and the other men will continue to refuse to pay the fines. Gingerich owed the most, $627, and was sentenced to 13 days in jail Thursday.

"We're just not going to pay," Gingerich, a farmer with 12 children, said before the court appearance.

Police and prosecutors say the orange triangles help motorists see the buggies and avoid collisions.

"You get behind one of the buggies at night, you can't see it," Graves County Sheriff DeWayne Redmon said. "We're citing them for their own safety as well as the safety of others."

Gingerich and two other Amish men, with help from the Kentucky chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, have sued over the state highway law, saying it infringes on their religious freedom. The Kentucky Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case later this year after the state appeals court rejected the Amish men's argument in June.

Gingerich said Thursday that he wished the judge would have waited for the state Supreme Court to hear the case before throwing the men in jail.

Kentucky lawmakers are considering changes to the highway law to allow the Amish to use gray reflective tape instead of the orange triangles.

Of Kentucky's 120 counties, Graves County has recorded the most violations for failure to use the orange triangles in the last five years, according to data obtained by The Associated Press. The county has recorded 57 of a total of 89 violations statewide since 2007.

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