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Amish sect must use orange safety triangles on buggies

By The Associated Press


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Editor's note: The Associated Press reported that the Pennsylvania House on June 27 had deleted from a transportation bill language that would have allowed an Amish sect to use gray reflective tape instead of orange triangles on their buggies. State Rep. Gary Haluska, who sponsored the amendment deleting the exemption from the bill, said the orange triangles are easier for motorists to see.

EBENSBURG, Pa. — A judge has ruled that an ultraconservative Amish congregation must use orange-and-red reflective triangles on their buggies despite arguments by the group that gaudy decorations violate their beliefs.

Twenty members of the Swartzentruber Amish sect who live about 65 miles from Pittsburgh were hit yesterday with 27 fines of $95 each for failing to use the slow-moving vehicle symbol on roadways.

Donna Doblick, the Pittsburgh attorney representing the Amish for the American Civil Liberties Union, said she would appeal the ruling to Pennsylvania Superior Court. The fines were suspended until the appeal is heard.

Instead of the triangles, the Swartzentruber prefer to use a gray reflective tape and a lantern on the rear of their buggies. Gray or white reflective tape is legal in nine states for use on slow moving vehicles, including Ohio, where the sect lived until two years ago.

"We're disappointed. It's hard to understand how in nine states they can make the requested accommodation for the Amish, but in Pennsylvania — the cradle of religious liberty — they can't respect the Amish's beliefs," said Vic Walczak, executive director of the Pittsburgh branch of the ACLU.

Cambria County Judge Timothy Creany ruled that Pennsylvania can abridge the Swartzentruber's religious beliefs because it has a "compelling interest" — namely, keeping the Amish and other vehicles safe on public roads.

Creany relied on testimony given last month by state transportation experts, who said the triangles are more visible than the tape during the day — when statistics show about 61% of all vehicle-buggy accidents occur.

Doblick said those statistics don't prove anything, however, because they don't show how the accidents occurred or who was at fault. "There's no evidence that any of those crashes could have been prevented by bathing the vehicle in color," she said.

The Cambria County District Attorney's Office, which is prosecuting the cases, didn't immediately return calls for comment on the decision.

Creany said in his 12-page ruling that he "admires the strength of choice that the members of this congregation have made" and hinted he would prefer to let the Amish use the reflective tape they prefer.

"This court, however, does not have legislative authority and ... (if) change is to be had it must come from the legislative arm of government," Creany wrote.

The state Senate has approved a bill that allows the Swartzentrubers to substitute the gray reflective tape and a lantern. The bill is now before the state House Transportation Committee.

Although some less stringent Amish sects already use the reflective triangles, the Swartzentrubers have vowed to leave the state if they lose the appeal or the bill doesn't become law.


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