Amish Law:

A Combination of Humility, Separatism, Social Avoidance, and Forgiveness


by Kelly Baxter


“In the little Amish community, toil is proper and good, religion provides meaning, and the bonds of family and church provide human satisfaction and love.”[1]


To “modern” people, the Amish may seem like a community from the past, frozen in time. They lack a centralized government and have neither national laws nor a system of courts. Many non-Amish people may wonder how such an old-fashioned society can survive and perhaps even thrive in today’s technological world. Despite their reluctance to accept change and technology, the Amish have experienced significant population growth in recent years.[2] Since the twentieth century, the Amish growth rate has increased mainly because the infant mortality rate has decreased as they accept modern forms of medicine and because they continue to average six to seven children per family.[3] The Amish way of life may explain why the Amish have endured—they abide by social restriction, yet compromise and adapt when necessary for survival.

This paper attempts to explain the Amish society and the influence of religion on their daily lives. Part I describes their historical beginnings as Anabaptists. Part II describes their system of values and their lives within the community. Part III explains the selection process for clergy leaders. Next, Part IV examines the Amish legal system and their use of social avoidance or shunning. Part V briefly describes how the Amish interact with the U.S. legal system. Finally, Part VI addresses whether the Amish society can survive the temptations of the surrounding world.

I. The History of the Amish

                  In 1525, reformers of the Catholic Church in Zurich, Switzerland rebaptized adults who made a voluntary confession of faith and became known as “Anabaptists” by their opponents.[4] Considered the most important Anabaptist leader in sixteenth century Netherlands, Menno Simons wrote the Enchiridion or Hand Book to describe church discipline, the ban of sinners, spiritual avoidance, and the order within the church.[5] During the next few decades, opponents persecuted thousands of Anabaptists, pushing them away to rural lands.[6]

                  In 1693, Jacob Ammann separated from the Swiss Anabaptists to form the Amish.[7] The separation was documented in a series of letters which were written after the events took place.[8] According to the letters, Ammann and his followers wanted to have communion twice a year rather than only once a year and wanted to practice social avoidance (Meidung) along with excommunication and foot washing.[9] Hoping to attain religious freedom, the Amish settled in North America during the mid-1700s and early 1800s.[10] Thousands immigrated to Pennsylvania where William Penn welcomed religiously oppressed people.[11] Tales of the journeys to America survive, written in a few eighteenth-century diaries that have been preserved.[12] During the nineteenth century, the Amish settled in other states such as Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, New York, and Maryland.[13]

Today the Amish still consider themselves Anabaptist who practice not only brotherly love but also foot washing, simple clothing and lifestyles, and social avoidance—influences of Jacob Ammann.[14] There are about 180,000 Amish children and adults living in twenty-five states.[15] About three-quarters of the Amish people live in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Indiana.[16] Based on a high birth rate and a high retention rate of young adults, the society has grown tremendously; from 1991 to 1996, the Amish population increased from 135,000 to 165,000 and added about 199 new church districts.[17]

II. The Amish Charter

Like other Christians, the Amish believe in God, but they also combine their faith with their entire culture.[18] The Amish people refer to their beliefs as the Amish Charter, which comprises their basic beliefs and values that guide them in their daily lives.[19] The Amish values center around Gelassenheit, the German word for submission and yielding to a higher authority—God.[20] “Humility (Demut) is highly prized but pride (Hochmut) is abhorred.”[21] Thus, the Amish are modest and reserved and place the needs of others above themselves.[22] The Amish saying “JOY” refers to Jesus first, Yourself last, and Others in between.[23]

A. Symbols of Amish Solidarity

                  The Amish live separate from the world—separate from desires and goals of other people. The Bible teaches them not to dress or act like others: “Be not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind that ye may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”[24] Another passage forbids certain social interactions with non-Amish: “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers; for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? What communion hath light with darkness?”[25] Their separatism is further revealed by their lack of interest in improving the world outside the Amish community.[26] However, the Amish accept others for who they are and do not attempt to convert outsiders to the Amish way of life.[27] Sometimes the Amish welcome encounters with the non-Amish because learning of the problems of those in the outside world make the Amish even more content with their own community.[28]

The Amish share many distinctive traits:

horse and buggy transportation, the use of horses and mules for field work, plain dress in many variations,[29] a beard and shaven upper lip for men, a prayer cap for women, the Pennsylvania German dialect, worship in homes, an eighth-grade education in one-room schools, the rejection of public electricity, and the selective use of technology.[30]

                  The Amish separate themselves from the rest of the world through cultural, social, technological, and legal lines.[31] “The Amish readily pay all of their taxes, except social security, and use the counsel of lawyers for executing wills, real estate transactions, deeds, and business contracts, but they draw the line of legal separation in their reluctance to engage in litigation and to use force to protect their interests.”[32] Based on their belief that the community cares for one another, the Amish reject social security because it shifts the care responsibility from the people to the government.[33]

                  The Amish styles of dressing and grooming symbolize their obedience to God and their protest to the proud non-Amish.[34] The Amish are easily recognized by the hook and eye closures on their coats, the wide-brimmed, felt black hats for men, the white organdy caps and uncut hair for women, and the long hair with bangs for men.[35] Perhaps only noticeable by the Amish and not by outsiders, subtle differences in clothing indicate the age, sex, and position within the community.[36] For example, there are a dozen different styles of Amish hats; Amish fathers wear hats with a flat crown.[37] The width of a hat brim distinguishes conservative Amish groups from more progressive groups;[38] the more traditional Amish wear wider brimmed hats.[39] Some communities even permit members to wear coats with buttons, zippers, or snaps.[40] The women wear dresses in solid colors (no patterns) and head caps.[41] Starting at age twelve, girls wear black caps to Sunday church services and white caps at home.[42] Upon marriage, the women always wear white caps.[43] The style of the cap indicates the region where the woman lives and the degree of orthodoxy of her community.[44] Those who do not follow the strict clothing rules can be sanctioned.[45]

The Amish speak a dialect of German known as Pennsylvania German or Pennsylvania Dutch.[46] They read, write, and speak English; speak Pennsylvania German, especially at home and in informal conversations; and read and hear High German during preaching services or formal ceremonies.[47] They express their courtesy toward others through silence and regard terms of endearment such as “sweetheart” as superficial or suspect.[48] On the other hand, belching at the dinner table is a sign of good appetite.[49] But in the presence of non-Amish, the Amish adopt the language and manners of the outsider.[50]

B. Daily Life

                  “The Amish are in some ways a little commonwealth, for their members claim to be ruled by the law of love and redemption.”[51] Anthropologists have characterized the Amish people as members of a “folk society” or “a small, isolated, traditional, simple, homogeneous society in which oral communication and conventionalized ways are important factors in integrating the whole of life.”[52] Their folk like culture becomes apparent through their way of thinking—“[t]he old is the best, and the new is of the devil.”[53] Their daily routine revolves around the organization of the family and the community

1. The Community Structure—A System of Social Groupings

Amish communities are religious communities living beside other non-Amish farmers; they do not live in discrete villages or counties.[54] The Amish community structure consists of the household, the settlement, the church district, and the affiliation.[55] Only the married couple and their children live in the house;[56] sometimes grandparents live in an adjoining house.[57] Amish households living in proximity to each other make up the settlement.[58] Settlements can be as small as a few households to as large as several counties.[59] Wherever a small group of Amish live (comprising up to thirty to forty households), they form a “church district” that determines the rules of life.[60] The church district is a congregation that includes a specific geographic area that encompasses anywhere from a portion of a large settlement to several small settlements.[61] Because the size of the church district is limited to the number of people who can fit in a barn for a church service,[62] the districts sometimes divide to form new districts to accommodate a growing settlement.[63] An affiliation is a group of church districts that have common rules and commune together for ceremonies because the bishops share the same ideals.[64]

A self-governing body, the church district can perform baptisms, marriages, ordinations, and funerals.[65] Members can only be disciplined by their home church within the district in which they live, but young people can date and marry people outside of their church district.[66] Groups are classified by their degree of worldliness. For example, a low church follows strict discipline, teaches separation from the world, and observes social avoidance.[67] A high church follows a more relaxed discipline.[68] Districts that share the same discipline beliefs are “in fellowship” with each other, and these affiliated church districts normally respect the other district’s disciplines and shun their excommunicated members.[69]

The Amish farm usually has two dwellings; the grandparents live in the Grossdaadi Haus.[70] The grandparents have a separate household unit and their own horse and buggy.[71] If the farm does not have two dwellings, the home is large enough to accommodate the retired grandparents.[72] Between the ages of fifty and seventy, the Amish retire and do not accept any public assistance or purchase any life insurance.[73] “The society provides for the needs of the people in a cradle-to-grave arrangement.”[74] Relatives or the church cares for the elderly.[75] Older men and women maintain their right to vote in community and church matters.[76]

Although the Amish own private property, the community comes to the aid of one another.[77] Thus, a young farmer can get a loan with interest.[78] Furthermore, the Amish have their own insurance system.[79] For example, after a fire, the community comes together to contribute money and labor to rebuild the building.[80]

Their belief in Christianity permeates by their way of life despite the lack of church buildings and formal religious education.[81] Church districts gather in homes every other Sunday to hold services.[82] The service includes an unwritten liturgy, song, prayer, and two sermons.[83] “Without the aid of organs, offerings, candles, crosses, robes, or flowers, members yield themselves to God in the spirit of humility.”[84]

2. Family Life—Rules and Responsibilities

The family organization is monogamous and patriarchal.[85] The Amish society consists of the immediate family, the extended family, and the church district.[86] The Amish church does not allow married couples to divorce.[87] In the church council, the wife has an equal vote, but not an equal voice; she follows her husband’s leadership.[88] The wife’s first loyalty remains with God, so if the husband is excommunicated, the wife must shun him.[89] The husband must also shun an excommunicated wife.[90] The husband and wife jointly make family decisions such as the decision to relocate.[91] A couple usually owns property jointly so that the wife can maintain legal ownership if the husband dies.[92] Although the wife is consulted when family problems arise, the husband makes the final decisions in domestic matters.[93]

                  The wife is responsible for caring for the children, cooking, cleaning, preserving food, making clothes, and gardening.[94] The women are not to assert power over the men.[95] Boys are baptized before girls, and women can never be ministers.[96] However, John Hostetler, an author and former Amish man, argued that an Amish homemaker has a greater chance of reaching status recognition than a suburban housewife because the Amish woman’s homemaking skills—cooking, gardening, sewing, and childrearing—all directly affect the family’s standard of living.[97]

                  Sex remains a purely personal matter. A married couple shows no displays of affection and does not disagree in public.[98] Adults ignore any mention of sex, especially when their children are present.[99] Children do not learn sex education, but they do learn about the reproduction of farm animals.[100] Children often talk about sex among their peers, and boys often tell jokes about the subject.[101] The Amish strongly oppose premarital sex and extramarital affairs.[102] Any member, whether male or female, who does not follow this standard must confess to the church even if pregnancy does not result.[103] The offenders are usually punished through excommunication and shunning and may return to the church upon repentance.[104] A pregnancy out of wedlock does not have to result in marriage; the mother can raise her child alone or may allow an Amish couple to adopt the baby.[105]

                  During courtship, young adults must follow the rules of the church. Marrying a first cousin is taboo, and marrying a second cousin is discouraged.[106] Young people can intermarry among different districts and settlements that maintain an affiliation.[107] The church also allows a young person from a more liberal group to marry into a more conservative or orthodox group if the young couple adopts the more conservative ways.[108] While young adults court one another, their relationships remain secret no matter how long their courtship lasts.[109] Rather than refer to their boyfriends or girlfriends by name, young people use personal pronouns such as “he” or “she.”[110] Young men date their girlfriends every other Saturday night; they wear their best clothes and pretend they must go to town for business.[111] Today, the boyfriend usually goes to his girlfriend’s home, makes sure her parents are asleep, and shines a flashlight on the girl’s bedroom window.[112] The couple may stay together at the girl’s home until the next morning.[113] Upon marriage, the families of the bride and groom provide a dowry of homemade objects and crafts.[114] Each person who attends the wedding brings a gift such as dishes, kerosene lamps, blankets, and small farm tools.[115] The parents of the bride and groom also give the couple furniture and livestock once they move into a home.[116]

“Parents stress not their own individual rights but their responsibilities and obligations for the correct nurture of their children.”[117] Parents teach Amish children to be obedient. When a child has a temper tantrum or misbehaves, the parents smack the child with their hand or a buggy whip.[118] Young boys often choose to fight one another with words, but sometimes a fight breaks out often resulting in broken noses.[119] Parents also punish children for using profanity.[120] Often children quarrel in front of their parents by remaining silent or ignoring the situation.[121]

3. Health Issues

                  The Amish believe that although medicine helps, God heals sickness.[122] Because the Bible does not forbid them from using modern medicine, each family decides on its own whether to seek medical care from a physician.[123] The Amish also rely on traditional home remedies such as teas, ointments, tonics, and salves.[124] Amish healers use sympathy curing called “powwowing” to heal people and animals with words, charms, and physical manipulations.[125] Some Amish groups condemn the practice of powwowing,[126] but these healers subvert the unlawful solicitation of fees for medical services by accepting contributions from those who have been healed.[127]

As a primarily inbred group, the Amish have several hereditary diseases.[128] Dwarfism often occurs and leaves some Amish inflicted with short limbs, six-fingered hands, poor teeth, and respiratory problems.[129] Many Ohio Amish have hemophilia, but the Pennsylvania Amish are unaffected.[130]

4. Education
                  Most Amish children attend Amish schools through the eighth grade; some attend public schools in rural areas.[131] In 1972, the Supreme Court upheld the validity of Amish schools.[132] In one- or two-room schoolhouses, teachers teach Amish children by oral means and by example, stressing discipline and basic skills.[133] The church or parents pay for the child’s school tuition.[134] The Amish do not teach sex education, and schools do not purchase health books that show how to make oneself attractive.[135] “Amish schools stress social responsibility rather than critical analysis.”[136]

                  To the Amish, higher education symbolizes self-advancement that contradicts their obedience to God and refusal to show pride.[137] Instead, the Amish strive for practical knowledge and an understanding of the Bible.[138] The Amish have an apprentice system of learning by doing—the boys learn to work on the farm and in the factory, and the girls learn to work in the home.[139]

5. Work
                The Amish learn to work at an early age. An Amish boy works for his father on the family farm until he is trained.[140] Then the boy can work for other relatives or for non-Amish people at construction sites or factories.[141] Once the boy reaches the age of twenty-one, he can keep his wages to save for the purchase of his own farm.[142] An Amish girl typically works for other families at a younger age than the boys.[143] Offering domestic help or cleaning services, the girl lives in the home of the family for which she works.[144] The girl’s earnings go toward some family needs, her clothing, and her savings.[145]

                The workday begins by four or five in the morning with the milking of the cows, a one- to two-hour chore.[146] After breakfast, the Amish begin working in the fields or tend to the livestock.[147] They take lunch and dinner breaks, but continue working even until the sun sets if they are busy.[148] Sunday is their only day of rest, but they still have to tend to the animals daily.[149]

                  The Amish limit the use of technology in their work. “Limitless technology is, for them, greed and a denial of wisdom. Amish economic thinking is subjected to a traditional wisdom requiring the restraint of selfishness, greed, leisure, and expansionist thinking.”[150] But some of the more modern Amish, especially those living in larger settlements, take advantage of electricity and tractors by renting farms from the non-Amish.[151] Although these “conveniences” are forbidden, some Amish can get away with “using” them to their advantage without actually “owning” the equipment.[152]

Economic security abounds—income is not a problem for retirees.[153] Without government assistance, the Amish can live off of income from their life earnings, rentals, carpentry, or part-time work.[154] “The community’s sensitivity to sharing and practicing mutual aid and its abiding interest in the well-being of those in need are great assets to older people.”[155] Even if the amount of farming declines, few Amish are unemployed.[156]

6. Interactions with the Outside World

                  Sometimes the Amish visit with their non-Amish neighbors.[157] Their children may attend the zoo together, or the Amish housewives may attend kitchenware parties.[158] The Amish may not attend movie theatres, farm conventions, banquets, or fairs.[159] In an emergency situation, the Amish may help their non-Amish neighbors with the harvest.[160] Although the Amish do not have meetings with other non-Amish church congregations, they can make contributions to volunteer organizations such as a local fire department.[161]

The Amish are allowed to sell their farm goods to outsiders; they receive a major portion of their income from the sales of dairy, livestock, and other products to outsiders.[162] The Amish follow market reports and ship their farm products to distant places if the market is better.[163] Although the Amish do not buy canned goods, they will buy sugar, salt, and flour at grocery stores.[164] The Amish men sometimes purchase farm equipment from catalogs or a door-to-door salesperson.[165]

C. Life Ceremonies

1. Birth               

The Amish do not use ceremonies to celebrate birth, yet “the birth of a child enhances the standing of the parents in the community.”[166] Most mothers give birth in hospitals, but some have their babies at home with the help of midwives and doctors.[167] The Amish have no taboos against seeking medical care.[168] Baby showers are unnecessary, as parents dress their infants in simple clothes and do not use fancy equipment.[169]

2. Baptism and Communion

                  As young adults, the Amish take the vow of baptism and accept absolute values (Wertrational) of ethical and religious beliefs.[170] The baptism ceremony occurs prior to the fall communion.[171] Parents do not force their children into baptism. The day before baptism, ministers give the young adults an opportunity to back out of the process and tell them “it is better not to make a vow than to make a vow and later break it . . . .”[172] During baptism, the adults promise to abide by the implied rules of the Ordnung, the oral “laws” that regulate religious and social life.[173]

The communion, held twice a year, reinforces the commitment of the Amish people to their church and God.[174] Two weeks before the communion, every member attends a preparatory service which acts as a cleansing ritual.[175] At this service each member is asked a series of questions: “whether he is in agreement with the Ordnung, whether he is at peace with the brotherhood, and whether anything ‘stands in the way’ of his entering into the communion service.”[176] This biannual meeting gives each member the opportunity to voice his or her opinion by pronouncing disagreement with the Ordnung in front of the entire congregation.[177] Communion is delayed until all members are in agreement with the Ordnung, but to avoid confrontation most members do not voice any disagreement and simply agree with the clergy leaders’ positions on issues concerning the Ordnung.[178] Members who are guilty of minor offenses to which they did not confess are punished by being excluded from the communion ceremony.[179] During communion, the church may accept back the excommunicated members who have repented.[180] “This service is therefore of utmost importance for evaluating personal behavior, achieving unanimity of opinion, and bringing deviating persons back into conformity with the community.”[181]

                  During communion some Amish drink homemade wine, while others drink grape juice.[182] Following prayer, the Amish wash one another’s feet and must stoop down to the other person’s feet as a sign of humility.[183] Women wash each other’s feet in a room separate from the men’s.[184] As members leave the service, they donate money to the poor fund of the district by placing money in the hand of the deacon who does not look at the amount of money, but instantly places it in his pocket.[185]

3. Marriage

Weddings, on the other hand, are elaborate and involve the entire community.[186] Because the courtship is secretive, the community finally learns of the wedding when the couple’s intentions are published in the church one to four weeks before the wedding.[187] Weddings normally occur in November or December on Tuesdays or Thursdays when farm work is at a minimum.[188] The Amish are opposed to dancing, but some districts allow singing games (singing and marching), especially during weddings.[189]

4. Death

The Amish prefer to die at home rather than in the hospital.[190] “Death, like the marriage announcement, is conveyed in person. In this way the most intimate sentiments are guarded with personal dignity.”[191] Unlike non-Amish families, an Amish family does not have to worry about making decisions regarding the funeral arrangements, for the community takes on this responsibility.[192] Following a death, nonrelatives are responsible for arranging the funeral; they even use a telephone belonging to a non-Amish neighbor to notify relatives who live far away.[193] Most Amish groups embalm the bodies of the dead and place them in simple wooden coffins.[194] Large Amish communities have separate Amish cemeteries with simple headstones.[195]

To mourn death, women must wear black for one year following a death in the immediate family, for six months following the death of a grandparent, for three months following the death of an uncle or aunt, and for six weeks following the death of a cousin.[196] Widows and widowers may remarry.[197]

III. Amish Leadership

                  Amish leadership is defined in terms of the clergy.[198] To avoid a loss of humility and the creation of ego, the Amish nominate the community leaders for election and spread some power among all of the members.[199] Women do not hold leadership positions in the clergy, but they do have voting rights in congregational meetings and in the nomination of ministers.[200] The leaders do not receive training, education, or pay.[201] Elected officials are called Diener or servants and consist of the bishop (“minister with full powers”), the preacher (“minister of the book”), and the deacon (“minister to the poor”).[202] These ordained positions are life appointments unless the leader is disciplined for misbehavior or transgression.[203] Usually each district has one bishop, two ministers (preachers), and one deacon.[204] The bishop is the chief authority of the congregation.[205] Bishops and preachers must be able to stand in front of the congregation to teach the ways of God without any aid from notes or books.[206] The deacon often reads from the Bible during church services and assists with religious ceremonies.[207] The deacon also helps the needy members or widows by distributing collections and money to them.[208]

A. Leadership Selection—Nomination and Divine Selection

                  In preparation for the ordination of new leaders, the bishop asks his congregation to reflect upon the community life.[209] Ordination proceeds if the district members are in agreement and have no friction among one another.[210] If the members decide to move forward with the ordination, the bishop announces the proposal and the members deliberate and pray for two weeks.[211] Then if all members agree to proceed with the ordination of the new ministers, the ceremony takes place at the next Sunday service, usually during communion.[212]

All candidates for leadership positions are selected by lot within the district.[213] If a bishop becomes ill or dies, another bishop from within the settlement temporarily oversees the congregation until the district selects the new bishop by lot[214] among the already ordained preachers.[215] Some districts require that bishop candidates have at least one child who is a member so that the bishops are not young.[216]

Each district follows a set procedure to select their leaders. First, the church members cast their vote to nominate a leader by walking past a door or window that is barely opened and whispering the name of the candidate to the deacon.[217] The deacon tells the bishop the name, and the bishop writes down the votes.[218] A candidate must receive at least two votes to be placed into the lot for election.[219] Husbands and wives are not allowed to discuss whom they plan to nominate, and ministers cannot make nominations.[220] If only one person receives all of the votes for nomination, that person is ordained without using the lot.[221]

Otherwise, following the nominations, final selection is by lot. The nominees’ names are written on a piece of paper that is then placed in a hymnbook.[222] Additional hymnbooks are added to equal the number of candidates, and all of these hymnbooks are placed on a table or bench.[223] After kneeling and praying, the candidates select a hymnbook.[224] The bishop opens the books until he finds the one with the paper containing the lot.[225] The bishop then states the name of the man holding the lot.[226] If the man holding the lot is chosen as a bishop, he must kneel so that the presiding bishop can place his hands on the man’s head and charge him with the duty of bishop.[227] The presiding bishop welcomes the newly ordained minister with a handshake and the Holy Kiss.[228] Members express deep sympathy for the new minister, for he carries such a heavy burden.[229] As the members leave the ordination service, they pray for the new minister.[230] “Even though the community might view the man chosen as less qualified than another nominee, the members are satisfied with the result because the choice was God’s.”[231]

B. Leadership Power

Once selected, the leaders of each district conduct their own business using a patriarchal-democratic decision-making process.[232] In most church districts, the bishop’s recommendations to excommunicate members are subject to the open vote of baptized members of the church, including women.[233] First, the ministers discuss the matter such as excommunication.[234] Once the ministers agree upon a procedure, the ministers discuss the problem with their church district members who then vote, usually in agreement with the leaders.[235] Part IV further explains the bishop’s power to preside over Amish “trials” and to recommend the appropriate punishment for disobedient Amish people.

IV. An Amish “Legal” System

                  The Amish have no national legal or court system, but they all abide by the same principles of nonresistance and social excommunication. This section explains the Amish legal system, including the Ordnung, punishment, forgiveness, and legal reform. This section also reveals anti-Amish sentiment regarding the Swartzentruber Amish, a group who arguably follow the strictest Ordnung.

A. The Ordnung—The Rules to Abide by

Although the Amish lack a national legal system, they all follow a basic set of rules created by their founders, which “clarify the basic principles of separation, nonresistance, apostasy, and exclusion.”[236] Members of each church district abide by their local Ordnung. The Ordnung, an informal policy, defines and regulates the Amish way of life—both the religious and social life.[237] The Ordnung usually remains oral and unwritten.[238] An Amish minister stated that “[i]n spite of an outsider’s view that Ordnung is a law, a bondage of suppression, the person who has learned to live within a respectful church Ordnung appreciates its value. It gives freedom of heart, peace of mind, and a clear conscience.”[239]

Taboos include filing a lawsuit,[240] owning a television, owning a vehicle, attending college,[241] and wearing make-up or jewelry including wedding rings.[242] Other violations include using a tractor, posing for a television program, flying on an airplane, serving on a jury, and joining a political organization.[243] The Ordnung even dictates the type of harness used on horses and the ornamentation on the buggy.[244] Children learn the Ordnung through the observation of adults.[245] Sometimes teenagers rebel against the way of the Ordnung, but upon baptism the adults declare their Christian beliefs and follow the Ordnung for the rest of their lives.[246]

B. An Amish “Trial”—How to Determine Guilt Within the Amish Community

The bishop or ministers learn of violations of the Ordnung through observation or gossip.[247] The deacon and a minister then visit the member who has been violating the Ordnung, and if the member expresses regret, the clergy ignore the offense and do not require the wayward member to confess publicly.[248]

If the member continues to disobey the Ordnung, the ministers hold a private meeting at the next Sunday worship service. There the bishop recommends the punishment for the member.[249] At the end of the worship service, the ministers hold a hearing in front of all the members.[250] The bishop asks the “defendant,” the disobedient member, questions about his actions and gives the defendant an opportunity to explain his side and to correct any factual errors.[251] Then the defendant steps out of the meeting room, and if no new information arose from the defendant’s hearing, the bishop presents the congregation with the punishment he recommended in the ministers’ private meeting.[252] Although the bishop has great authority and recommends the excommunication or reinstatement of members, the congregation votes to determine whether to excommunicate or reinstate a member.[253] The ministers ask the members if they agree with the proposed punishment.[254] Unless members know facts that have yet to be revealed, all members usually agree with the bishop’s recommendation.[255] Before the defendant returns to hear the verdict, the congregation must unanimously agree on the punishment.[256] The bishop publicly announces the punishment upon the defendant’s return to the meeting.[257]

C. The Punishment Phase—Excommunication and Shunning

When disobedient members fail to confess their sins, the congregation can vote unanimously to excommunicate and shun those adults who do not uphold the Ordnung.[258] Shunning, or social avoidance, is referred to as the Meidung and results in solitary confinement.[259] Adults who are not baptized may leave the community and return to visit their families without being shunned.[260] Three types of people are excluded from the church: “those who live in open sin, those who cause divisions, and those who teach a false doctrine.”[261] Shunning does not occur until the offender who has been warned still remains rebellious.[262]

Those who do not follow the rules can be subject to the following constraints (from milder to more severe):

1.       conscience or personal inhibitions;

2.       informal talk or gossip;[263]

3.       admonishment by the deacon or a preacher; followed by

4.       admonishment by two people, usually two men, if the offender remains disobedient;

5.       voluntary abstinence from communion or confession of the wrongdoing to the church;

6.       required abstinence from the next communion;

7.       immediate excommunication and shunning until repentance for major offenses such as adultery, drunkenness, or buying an automobile where forbidden; and

8.       excommunication and shunning for life.[264]


The community does not force excommunicated people to leave; instead the church shuns them.[265] For example, a young, excommunicated adult can still live with his parents and attend church, but he cannot sit at the dinner table with baptized adults or use his buggy to drive a sibling to church.[266] If he is unable to repent, the excommunicated person must eventually leave home so that his parents can take communion again.[267] Usually an innocent spouse will request excommunication so that the married couple does not have to shun one another.[268] Amish who knowingly eat with an excommunicated person will likely be shunned also.[269] But if the person unknowingly eats at the same table as an excommunicated person, the Amish do not shun the innocent person.[270]

The Amish do not always uniformly enforce sanctions, particularly based on age and occupation.[271] Thus, changes in the Ordnung likely result when discipline is not uniformly enforced.[272] Old people are often given privileges, such as indoor plumbing, and once the privilege is granted, the community usually changes its Ordnung.[273] Young people who do not own a farm yet often temporarily work at construction sites or in factories and are allowed to travel in automobiles, use telephones, and use powered equipment.[274] Likewise, the Amish exhibit some leniency in enforcing the Ordnung. For example, the church may give a farmer six months or until the next communion to remove rubber tires from his tractor so that he can save enough money to purchase steel wheels to avoid excommunication.[275] However, the church almost automatically excommunicates members for adultery or divorce.[276]

Furthermore, the various Amish communities treat shunning differently.[277] For example, the rules on smoking tobacco vary among the districts and the Ordnung.[278] Many church districts have officially discouraged the use of tobacco and excommunicate persistent smokers, but some more conservative groups condone the use of tobacco.[279] Some “milder” Amish groups discontinue the shunning if another Amish congregation welcomes the offender into the community.[280] However, the Old Order Amish[281] excommunicate and shun offenders for life until that offender restores his previous relationship with the congregation of his baptism.[282] The excommunication and shunning are used to discipline the Amish who do not follow the Ordnung; these methods keep the people faithful to the Amish way of life.[283]

Sometimes the accused feel they were unjustly accused by arbitrary rules. However, these so-called wrongfully accused people have no recourse or court of appeal.[284] Once the church orders the excommunication, the person is shunned until he repents even if he thinks he has done nothing wrong.[285]

D. Forgiveness—Wrongdoers Are Welcomed Back

Without putting the decision to a vote, the community almost automatically welcomes back excommunicated members who have publicly confessed their sins.[286] The church accepts excommunicated Amish back into the community usually within two or three weeks after they acknowledge their sins and repent.[287] However, an excommunicated person should never “talk back” to his accuser or to ordained ministers if that person wants to be reinstated into the church.[288] For minor offenses, such as disobeying the dress code or arguing with another person, the offender only needs to give a formal apology to the church.[289] For major offenses, such as adultery, fornication, or teaching heresy, the offender has to confess his or her sins while kneeling and must seek the bishop’s permission to return to the church community.[290]

E. Legal Reform—Amendments to the Ordnung

Leaders do not initiate change; rather the Amish members challenge the boundaries of the rules by using modern devices and waiting for the leaders to react.[291] If others adopt the new practice without complaint, it may eventually get incorporated into the Ordnung by default; in other words, the Amish just allow some strict standards of the Ordnung to relax on their own over time.[292] As members begin to use some modern devices such as the telephone, the ordained leaders discuss the issue, and if the leaders develop a consensus, they may incorporate the new practice into the Ordnung.[293]

Sometimes before reaching a consensus, the leaders take several years to evaluate a new practice and to assess the long-term impacts of the change on the community.[294] But the leaders act quickly to forbid practices they are reluctant to accept such as video cameras because of their belief in humiliation.[295] “[I]t is easier to accept a new practice, never inscribed in the Ordnung, than to change an old taboo.”[296] The Amish are reluctant to abandon traditional practices deeply ingrained in the Ordnung and thus develop ways almost to “cheat” the rules.[297] For example, the Ordnung forbids the use of freezers and telephones in the home, so the Amish use their non-Amish neighbors’ freezers or telephones.[298]

If the Amish disagree with the amount of either social changes or stagnation, they simply move to a more compatible settlement or form a new settlement.[299] Sometimes division exists among the community and separate groups form within the same settlement. Usually the different Amish groups respect one another and do not try to steal other groups’ members.[300]

F. The Swartzentruber Amish Ordnung—Does This Legal System Work?

In 1913, the Swartzentruber Amish formed their own group and refused to recognize the other Amish churches as representing true Christians.[301] Although other Amish churches allow their members to move to other church settlements without being excommunicated, the Swartzentruber church excommunicates its members just for joining a different segment of the Amish church.[302] Compared to others, the Swartzentruber Ordnung is very strict and outlines the behavior requirements and styles of dress in great detail.[303] The bishop has the final say and can excommunicate members without the community’s vote or approval.[304] If the bishop and other ministers lack direct evidence to punish a member, the bishop and ministers hold a meeting with the accused until he confesses.[305] If the preachers are confident that the member is guilty, the bishop will punish the member even without getting a confession.[306] If the bishop deems the violation of the Ordnung to be serious, the bishop gives the member an opportunity to excommunicate himself and become automatically shunned.[307] The members are excommunicated for six weeks.[308] The bishop and the Ordnung have great control over the members, and any member who goes against the bishop is likely to be punished by the bishop for violating the Ordnung.[309]

According to David Yoder, a Swartzentruber Amish informant, children sometimes face hunger, suffer abuse, and live in unsanitary conditions.[310] However, many of the crimes go unreported or are ignored.[311] Yoder has a web site for his online book that depicts his former Amish life and the current lives of others in the Amish community.[312] According to the informant, “there is no safer place to grow marijuana or do cocaine than within the Amish culture, because of the publics ignorance.”[313] Usually the Amish punish their people for committing crimes, but often the excommunication is merely temporary and the criminal is welcomed back into the community after repenting and confessing his sins.[314]

V. The Amish and the Laws of the U.S.

Although the Amish understand the necessity of government, they believe the U.S. government has no jurisdiction over their or any religion.[315] As the U.S. tried to impose its laws on them, the Amish formed a national steering committee to negotiate with the government. Today, the Amish continue to seek exemptions from U.S. laws and are not politically active. Still, the government can prosecute the Amish for their crimes. However, because lawsuits are taboo, the Amish cannot rely on that same criminal system to protect themselves from criminals.

A. The National Amish Steering Committee

                  The Amish are organized into over 900 church districts across the U.S.[316] But the Amish have no national headquarters or national official to deal directly with U.S. state and federal officials.[317] The Amish church has no form of hierarchy beyond the local church district.[318] The local bishop leads a district of thirty to forty families.[319] Furthermore, each Amish district follows its own set of rules.[320] Thus, “[t]he various levels of state jurisdiction and the diversity of Amish convictions make the patterns of interaction with the state difficult to generalize and to predict.”[321]

In 1966 and 1967, the Amish formed the National Amish Steering Committee to address this issue.[322] Representing all Amish in the U.S., the newly formed Committee was comprised of three Amish laymen designated as chairmen, secretary, and treasurer.[323] At first, the Amish used the Committee to get the U.S. government (e.g., the Selective Service) to approve appeals by conscientious objectors of the Vietnam War who were assigned to hospital work but wanted farm work.[324] Refusing to participate in violence or war, the Amish are conscientious objectors.[325]

The Committee continued its efforts to represent the Amish in front of the federal government. In 1972, the Committee successfully argued in front of the Department of Labor to stop the Occupational Safety and Health Administration from issuing citations or penalties against Amish men who refused to wear hard hats at construction sites in place of the traditional Amish black felt hat.[326] “Between 1973 and 1990, the Steering Committee investigated and made rulings concerning an appropriate Amish stance toward workers’ compensation, Federal Housing Administration loans, the Internal Revenue Service’s earned income credit program, Medicare, and the homestead credit, an income tax deduction offered in several states.”[327]

Today, the National Amish Steering Committee resembles a “quasi-bureaucratic structure.”[328] The Committee has no formal authority over church districts or individuals; it “is only the voice of the churches combined.”[329] The Committee has four levels of responsibility: the chairman, the other three members of the Committee, the state directors, and the local community or committeemen.[330] Each spring the state directors and Committee members meet.[331] Each September the four-member Committee meets with its fourteen state directors; committeemen from church districts across the country also attend.[332] The Committee holds special meetings when necessary to supervise the election of new state directors to replace former directors who have resigned, moved to another state, or died.[333] After the fall meeting, the secretary publishes the meeting minutes in pamphlets and distributes them to the state directors.[334] In November, each state director holds a meeting to distribute the pamphlets from the spring and fall national meetings.[335] After each state meeting, the Amish newspaper, the Die Botschaft, publishes tales of the travels and gatherings.[336] Finally, local committeemen hold meetings to inform their own communities of the decisions and issues discussed at the national meeting.[337]

The Amish even reimburse those working on the Steering Committee. The Committee pays for travel and out-of-pocket expenses.[338] Committee funding is made through solicitation among the states; about every four years, each church district in a state collects one dollar per member for the Committee funds.[339]

Although the Amish often refuse to litigate in U.S. courts, through the Steering Committee, they can communicate and negotiate with any government agency.[340] The Amish Steering Committee has been described as “lay lawyers who do everything we might expect of professional lawyers—lobbying, negotiating settlements, inventing and successfully selling unique legal ‘loopholes,’ [and] advocating other members’ cases before official bodies.”[341] “The committee represents a delicate balance between the autonomy of the church districts and the practical need of the Amish to represent themselves effectively in a single voice to government officials.”[342]

B. Government Regulations

The U.S. government has attempted to impose laws on the Amish such as regulations involving abortion, embalming, seatbelts, product labels, workplace safety, sanitation, and environmental pollution.[343] The Amish are exempted from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s hard hat requirement on construction sites because the regulation only affects their own safety, not the safety of others, and because the regulation would take away a piece of their identity—the wearing of broad rim, black hats.[344] However, the Amish generally comply with the law that requires them to place lights and slow moving vehicle emblems on their buggies because the safety of others may be affected.[345]

When possible, the Amish try to minimize their interactions with the United States government. Although the church does not prohibit voting, usually only the farmers or business men vote, especially on issues concerning zoning laws.[346] The Amish do not participate in the U.S. jury system[347] and are not politically active.[348] The Amish pay taxes except for social security; as a consequence, they are not eligible for Medicare and Medicaid.[349]

The Amish do not want to depend upon the U.S. government for aid. Although they pay certain taxes and comply with crop reduction programs, the Amish refuse to accept farm subsidies and social security payments.[350] The Amish have created their own insurance system to cover losses by fire, lightening, and storms.[351] They have also created liability and hospitalization insurance.[352] The Amish may purchase liability insurance from commercial insurance companies, but they may not purchase property or life insurance.[353]

C. Crimes Committed by the Amish
                  Although the Amish have a reputation as law-abiding citizens and are rarely prosecuted for crimes,[354] the U.S. government has prosecuted them for such crimes as drug dealing, rape, and murder. The government imposes criminal sanctions on the Amish criminals, while the Amish communities shun them. Amish informants describe incidents of rape, incest, and murder that go unreported or ignored by local law enforcement.[355]

                  In 1998 in Philadelphia, two young Amish men, who had not been baptized yet, pleaded guilty to conspiring to sell cocaine to members of their Amish community.[356] The court sentenced the Amish men to one year in prison for their crimes.[357] Both men apologized for their actions and promised to educate their community on the dangers of drugs.[358]

                  The state of Ohio sentenced Byler, an Amish man, to five years in prison for the sexual battery of his three granddaughters.[359] Byler failed to show remorse for his actions, so the court declared him a sexual predator and required him to report to authorities every ninety days for the rest of his life.[360] Although the trial was public, the Amish did not make any public remarks regarding Mr. Byler. We can only assume that he was shunned and perhaps eventually welcomed back into his community.

                  On March 18, 1993, Edward Gingerich, a Pennsylvanian Amish man, murdered his wife and became “the only Amish man in history ever to be convicted of homicide.”[361] Gingerich, known to suffer mental illness, beat his wife to death in front of two of their children.[362] The commonwealth of Pennsylvania prosecuted Gingerich for criminal homicide.[363] His Amish community immediately shunned him and refused to participate in trial proceedings unless subpoenaed.[364] The jury found Gingerich guilty of involuntary manslaughter but mentally ill.[365] The Amish bishop from Gingerich’s church district drafted a petition for the state to confine him to a mental hospital.[366] Then, the court sentenced Gingerich to a maximum of five years in prison.[367] After his release from prison, his Amish community continued to shun him, and Gingerich was forced to move to a community for troubled Amish.[368] Although his new community did not shun him, Gingerich reportedly is not trusted and must remain on medication.[369]

D. Crimes Committed Against the Amish
                  Followers of
Gelassenheit, the Amish sometimes must suffer abuse from the non-Amish without seeking the protections of the U.S. legal system.[370] Because the non-Amish know the Amish are unlikely to seek legal action, they can easily take advantage of Amish businessmen by refusing to pay for their services.[371] But the Amish do seek out the assistance of attorneys to prepare wills and to carry out real estate transactions.[372] Sometimes the Amish use these attorneys to resolve business disputes with the non-Amish privately.[373]

The Amish do not fight; in times of hostility, they move to new homes without defending their rights.[374] Moreover, “[n]o one will ever know how many crimes are smothered in silence.”[375] The Amish remain silent when they know something is wrong, even if the silence results in hindering a police investigation.[376] “Silence is a way of living and forgiving, a way of embracing the community with charity and the offender with affection.”[377]

                  As pacifists, the Amish are also vulnerable to violent attacks by the non-Amish. “Rancorous behavior, threats, deliberate destruction, vandalism, and arson are known to occur and are most likely under-reported.”[378] Some non-Amish youths make a “sport” of throwing stones at Amish homes and carriages.[379] They even refer to the Amish as “clapes” (a combination of “clay” and “ape”) to belittle their lives as farmers and simple people.[380] In 1979 in Adams County, Indiana, this rock throwing “sport” resulted in the accidental death of an Amish baby.[381] Although the U.S. government prosecuted the four boys involved, the Amish family did not testify and stated that “their punishment is not up to us. We didn’t want to file charges.”[382]

                  On March 14, 1992, an arsonist set fire to seven barns in the Amish settlement of Big Valley in Mifflin County, Pennsylvania.[383] The destruction killed 177 horses and cows and resulted in about $1 million worth of damages.[384] The FBI investigated the arson as a hate crime, but the Amish did not insist that they catch or even punish the man responsible for such destruction.[385] In spite of this apparent resentment toward the Amish by some non-Amish, people from across the United States raised money and assisted with the rebuilding of the destroyed barns.[386]

VI. Surviving Change

                  Despite the commitment to their community, the Amish face adversity. They must cope with confrontations within their group, intrusions by tourists, modern technology, and rebellious youth.

Differences have developed among the different Amish congregations. Such differences are revealed through the clothing styles, the shape of the woman’s head cap, the use of technology, and travel patterns.[387] Variations in Amish culture have split the group into various factions that may shun others for their progressiveness.[388] To avoid confrontation, dissatisfied members move to another district or form their own settlement.[389] If moving does not solve the problem, the factions shun one another.[390]

                  Furthermore, the Amish are vulnerable to tourism. It clogs their small roads and disrupts their work and schooling.[391] But the Amish refuse to use legal means to gain protection from tourists, and merely smile and waive at tourists or simply ignore them.[392] Based on religion, the Amish object to having their pictures taken and strictly forbid posing for pictures.[393] However, some Amish choose to profit from tourism by selling quilts and other needlework in gift shops.[394]

In the face of modernity (i.e., accepting technology), some Amish overconform to the rules. “Overconformity requires an uncritical attitude toward the preachers as well as toward the traditional practices.”[395] However, the Amish do accept some forms of modernity. They cannot own automobiles or telephones, but they can ride in cars and use a neighbor’s phone.[396] Although the city power lines cannot be connected to an Amish house, the Amish can use generators powered by gas motors for refrigeration units.[397] Many young boys (and some girls) secretly acquire a driver’s license, but the church cannot punish them because they are not baptized.[398] The parents are responsible for disciplining their children, but may be sympathetic to this offense so that they can take advantage of this fast method of transportation.[399]

The Amish allow the young people to associate and court with one another during the Sunday evening “singing” meetings.[400] However, in recent years in the larger communities, the teenagers not only sing but also dance, drink, attend movie theatres, or go to horse races.[401] Often the parents respect the privacy of their children and their children’s friends and either allow the singing and dancing (the hops) or “look the other way” while the festivities occur in the barn.[402] The parents give their children great latitude during their adolescent years because the Amish believe that their strong family and religious system will eventually bring the children back to the Amish way of life.[403] In effect, the parents allow their children to “sow their wild oats” so that upon baptism, the young people will be reminded of the sins and flaws of human beings and will remain in the Amish community.[404]

Like other societies, “Amish society will thrive or perish to the degree that it can provide community and personal fulfillment for the children raised in Amish homes.”[405] With all of the temptations of the modern world surrounding them, why would Amish children choose baptism into the strict Amish church? Evidence suggests that an average of four out of five Amish young adults join the Amish church of their birth.[406] These children are raised separate from the modern world—they speak a different language, wear different clothes, and follow different laws. One author has stated, “to know where one is going and why—fills the human soul with meaning. And that is likely one reason, at least, why so many Amish youth claim their birthright church and why so many adults take this road to heaven.”[407] Only the future holds what lies ahead for the Amish society, but the past has shown that the Amish can endure change and maintain their humble values and separate culture.

[1]. John A. Hostetler, Amish Society 91 (3d ed. 1980). The author John Hostetler was born into the Amish family, but he refused to take the vow of baptism and joined the Mennonite church. Id. at 84. The author also gained insight from conversations with Amish people and from a visit to lands where the Anabaptists originated in Alsace, France, Switzerland, and Germany. Id. at xiii. Students studying the Amish society also contributed to Hostetler’s book. Id.


[2]. At the turn of the twentieth century, there were only about 5,000 Amish in North America, but their numbers could reach 240,000 by 2010. See Donald B. Kraybill & Carl F. Bowman, On the Backroad to Heaven: Old Order Hutterites, Mennonites, Amish, and Brethren 103, 134, fig. 4.4 (2001). The authors of On the Backroad to Heaven relied on research and conversations with Amish people, including many anonymous informants, to write their book. Id. at xv.


[3]. See id. at 134, fig. 4.4.


[4]. The Amish and the State 5 (Donald B. Kraybill ed., 1993). “Anabaptist” meant “rebaptizer” in reference to their rejection of infant baptism. Hostetler, supra note 1, at 27. The Anabaptist believed that because infants could not know sin, they did not need baptism to cleanse their sins. Id. In Western Europe, authorities considered Anabaptists to be seditious and would punish them with arrest, torture, exile, or death. Id. The Amish are known as Häftler (hook-and-eyers), and the Mennonites are known as Knöpflers (button people). Id. at 39.


[5]. Hostetler, supra note 1, at 30. Today, Amish and Mennonites still read this book reprinted by Pathway Publishers. Id. and n.10.


[6]. The Amish and the State, supra note 4, at 5.


[7]. Id. at 5. Menno Simons, a Dutch Anabaptist leader, created the Mennonite community. Id. at 6.


[8]. Hostetler, supra note 1, at 33.


[9]. Id. at 33-34.


[10]. The Amish and the State, supra note 4, at 6. The exact date of the first arrival of the Amish on American soil is unknown because as a persecuted group, the Amish did not keep formal records of their movements. Hostetler, supra note 1, at 55-56. The Anabaptist movement resulted in three groups that still exist today: Dutch and Prussian Mennonites, Austrian Hutterian Brethren, and Swiss Brethren. Id. at 25. The Amish originated with the Swiss Brethren. Id.


[11]. Hostetler, supra note 1, at 52.


[12]. Id. at 60.


[13]. Id. at 65.


[14]. Id. at 47. Today due to scarcity of land and intolerance of Anabaptists, the Amish have no congregations in Europe that retain the name and original practices of the Amish. Id. at 66.


[15]. Kraybill & Bowman, supra note 2, at 103.


[16]. Id. at 103.


[17]. Id. at 103; see The Amish Struggle with Modernity 10, 72-73 (Donald B. Kraybill & Marc A. Olshan eds., 1994) (discussing the retention rates); infra note 406.


[18]. Hostetler, supra note 1, at 76.


[19]. Id. at 75.


[20]. The Amish and the State, supra note 4, at 12.


[21]. Hostetler, supra note 1, at 79.


[22]. The Amish and the State, supra note 4, at 12-13.


[23]. Id. at 13.


[24]. Hostetler, supra note 1, at 77 (quoting Roman 12:2).


[25]. Id. at 77 (quoting II Corinthians 6:14).


[26]. Id. at 78.


[27]. See id. at 79. The Amish refer to non-Amish as Englisher or Auswendiger, meaning someone from the outside. Id. at 240. Because the Mennonites are so similar, the Amish refer to them as Mennischte rather than outsiders. Id. at 240-41.


[28]. Id. at 335.


[29]. The Ordnung does permit various colors (green, brown, blue, and lavender) for men’s shirts and women’s dresses. Kraybill & Bowman, supra note 2, at 103.


[30]. The Amish and the State, supra note 4, at 7. The name “Old Order Amish” originated in America in the nineteenth century.


[31]. Id. at 12.


[32]. Id.


[33]. Hostetler, supra note 1, at 264.


[34]. Id. at 234.


[35]. Id. at 233.


[36]. Id. at 234.


[37]. Id.


[38]. Id. at 235.


[39]. Hostetler, supra note 1, at 272.


[40]. Id. at 236.


[41]. Id. at 237.


[42]. Id.


[43]. Id.

[44]. Id.


[45]. Hostetler, supra note 1, at 235.


[46]. Id. at 238. Although the Amish originated in Switzerland, France, and Germany, they all lived within the same dialect-speaking area. Id.


[47]. Id. at 238-40.


[48]. Id. at 233.


[49]. Id.


[50]. Id.


[51]. Hostetler, supra note 1, at 5.


[52]. Id. at 8-9 (citing Robert Redfield, The Folk Society, 52 Am. J. Soc. 293-308 (Jan. 1947)).


[53]. Id. at 10-11.


[54]. Id. at 93.


[55]. Id.


[56]. Id.


[57]. Hostetler, supra note 1, at 168.


[58]. Id. at 93.


[59]. Id. at 93-94.


[60]. Id. at 12.


[61]. Id. at 94; see also id. at 100, tbl.2 (showing that the number of districts is greater than the number of settlements and thus suggesting that districts can encompass multiple settlements).


[62]. Id. at 94-95.


[63]. Donald B. Kraybill, The Riddle of Amish Culture 11 (1989).


[64]. Hostetler, supra note 1, at 97. The bishops within the affiliation form a “network” to bring together similar church districts for ceremonial purposes. See Kraybill, supra note 63, at 78.


[65]. Hostetler, supra note 1, at 95.


[66]. Id. at 96-97.


[67]. Id. at 97.


[68]. Id.


[69]. Id.


[70]. Id. at 168.


[71]. Hostetler, supra note 1, at 168.


[72]. Id.


[73]. Id.


[74]. Id. at 247.


[75]. Id.


[76]. Id. at 169.


[77]. The Amish and the State, supra note 4, at 9. They do not practice a complete “community of goods.” Hostetler, supra note 1, at 246.


[78]. Hostetler, supra note 1, at 246.


[79]. Id.


[80]. Id.


[81]. The Amish and the State, supra note 4, at 9.


[82]. Kraybill & Bowman, supra note 2, at 108.


[83]. Id.


[84]. Id.


[85]. Hostetler, supra note 1, at 152.


[86]. The Amish and the State, supra note 4, at 7.


[87]. Hostetler, supra note 1, at 152.


[88]. Id.


[89]. Id. at 152. But see infra text accompanying note 268 (stating that an innocent spouse may request excommunication so that the couple does not have to shun one another).


[90]. Hostetler, supra note 1, at 152.


[91]. Id.


[92]. Id. at 154.


[93]. Id. at 153. “In practice, the farm is the Amishman’s kingdom, and his wife is his general manager of household affairs.” Id. at 154.


[94]. Id. Men do not wash dishes. Id.


[95]. Id. at 155.


[96]. Hostetler, supra note 1, at 155.


[97]. Id. at 16.


[98]. Id. at 155.


[99]. Id. at 162.


[100]. Id.


[101]. Id.


[102]. Hostetler, supra note 1, at 157.


[103]. Id.

[104]. Id.


[105]. Id. Children are never “unwanted” in an Amish community, for “there will be another dishwasher or woodchopper, and another church member.” Id.


[106]. Id. at 148.


[107]. Id.


[108]. See Hostetler, supra note 1, at 148. Growing up in Pennsylvania, I always thought that a blue door on an Amish house indicated that an unmarried girl lived in the house. Obviously, this belief cannot be true because the Amish youth court one another in secrecy. Open displays of courtship go against the values of humility.


[109]. Id. at 148-49. If the relationship is revealed, the entire family will tease the young adult. Id. at 150.


[110]. Id. at 150. Even married couples continue to refer to one another as “she or he” or “my wife or my husband.” Id. at 156.


[111]. Id. at 150.


[112]. Id.


[113]. Id. In the old Amish tradition of courting, the boy and girl would lie together in bed fully clothed. Id.


[114]. Hostetler, supra note 1, at 151.


[115]. Id.


[116]. Id. at 152.


[117]. Id. at 147.


[118]. Id. at 161.


[119]. Id.


[120]. Hostetler, supra note 1, at 161.


[121]. Id. at 162.


[122]. Id. at 314.


[123]. Id. The Amish have no Ordnung against the vaccination of children. Id. at 318.


[124]. Id. at 324.


[125]. Id. at 325. For example, to protect people from a mean dog, the healer chants the following three times: “Dog, hold thy nose to the ground; God has made me and thee, hound.” Id. at 326.


[126]. Hostetler, supra note 1, at 325.


[127]. Id. at 328.


[128]. Id. at 319. “If the gene pool of a group of people contains certain recessive tendencies, the probability that a child will be born with a birth defect is greater when the members intermarry and the gene is carried by both father and mother.” Id. at 321-22.


[129]. Id. at 320.


[130]. Id. at 321.


[131]. Id. at 178.


[132]. See Wisconsin v. Yoder 406 U.S. 205 (1972) (holding that states cannot constitutionally require the Amish to send their children to public high school).


[133]. Hostetler, supra note 1, at 178.


[134]. Id. at 180. Annual tuition is about $250 per child. Kraybill & Bowman, supra note 2, at 114. Amish parents also have to pay public school taxes. Id.


[135]. Hostetler, supra note 1, at 182.


[136]. Id. at 185.


[137]. Id. at 244. The Amish have a saying that “self-praise stinks.” Id. at 245.


[138]. Id. at 244. They refer to book learning as chair-mindedness. Id.


[139]. Id.


[140]. Id. at 114.


[141]. Hostetler, supra note 1, at 114.


[142]. Id.


[143]. Id.


[144]. Id. at 114-15. The girl can work for non-Amish people if she can do so without meeting many outsiders. Id. at 115.


[145]. Id. at 114-15.


[146]. Id. at 136.


[147]. Hostetler, supra note 1, at 136.


[148]. Id.


[149]. Id.


[150]. Id. at 381.


[151]. Id. at 382.


[152]. See Kraybill & Bowman, supra note 2, at 132-33.


[153]. Hostetler, supra note 1, at 170.


[154]. Id.


[155]. Id.


[156]. Kraybill & Bowman, supra note 2, at 125.


[157]. Hostetler, supra note 1, at 115.


[158]. Id.


[159]. Id.


[160]. Id.


[161]. Id.


[162]. Id.


[163]. Hostetler, supra note 1, at 115.


[164]. Id.


[165]. Id. at 115-16.


[166]. Id. at 190.


[167]. Id. at 190-91.


[168]. Id. at 191.


[169]. Hostetler, supra note 1, at 191.


[170]. Id. at 79.


[171]. Id. at 81.


[172]. Id.


[173]. Id. at 83. The Amish do accept converts; usually they are people who have lived and worked in Amish homes or children who were adopted. Id. at 383. The Amish consider evangelistic behavior such as recruiting converts to be disruptive to the community’s ideals of Gelassenheit and humility. Id. at 298-99.


[174]. Id. at 222.


[175]. Hostetler, supra note 1, at 222.


[176]. Id.


[177]. See Kraybill, supra note 63, at 108.


[178]. Id.


[179]. Hostetler, supra note 1, at 223.


[180]. Id.


[181]. Id.


[182]. Id. at 224.


[183]. Id.


[184]. Id. at 225.


[185]. Hostetler, supra note 1, at 225.


[186]. Id. at 191.


[187]. Id.


[188]. Id. at 192. Of course, the relatives living far away do not own telephones and must rely on their non-Amish neighbors to relay the message.


[189]. Id. at 198.


[190]. Id. at 199.


[191]. Hostetler, supra note 1, at 205.


[192]. Id. at 199.


[193]. Id.


[194]. Id. at 200.


[195]. Id. at 205.


[196]. Id. at 201.


[197]. Hostetler, supra note 1, at 192.


[198]. The Amish and the State, supra note 4, at 68.


[199]. Hostetler, supra note 1, at 108.


[200]. Id. at 15.


[201]. Id. at 112.


[202]. Id. at 108-09.


[203]. Id. at 111. I assume either a bishop from an affiliated church district or the faithful ministers within the district would recommend the form of discipline for a disobedient bishop.


[204]. Id. at 109. Depending on the health and age of the ministers, a district could have up to three preachers. See Kraybill, supra note 63, at 79.


[205]. Hostetler, supra note 1, at 109.


[206]. Id.


[207]. Id. at 110.


[208]. Id.


[209]. Id. at 112.


[210]. Id.


[211]. Hostetler, supra note 1, at 112.


[212]. Id.


[213]. Id.


[214]. Kraybill, supra note 63, at 79.


[215]. Hostetler, supra note 1, at 112.


[216]. Id. at 113.


[217]. Id. at 112.


[218]. Id. Other clergy leaders from within the settlement perform the nomination and selection procedures to assist an affiliated church fill its vacant leadership positions. See Kraybill, supra note 63, at 79.


[219]. Hostetler, supra note 1, at 112. Some districts require three votes so that a husband and wife cannot conspire to nominate someone out of spite—becoming an ordained minister can be a traumatic experience. Id.


[220]. Id.


[221]. Id.


[222]. Id. at 113.


[223]. Id.


[224]. Id.


[225]. Hostetler, supra note 1, at 113.


[226]. Id.


[227]. Id.


[228]. Id. The Holy Kiss occurs when the two hold hands and kiss each other; the older person states “the Lord be with us” and the other responds “Amen, in peace.” Id. at 225.


[229]. Id. at 113.


[230]. Id.


[231]. Hostetler, supra note 1, at 113.


[232]. Id. at 111.


[233]. Id.


[234]. Id.


[235]. Id.


[236]. Id. at 84.


[237]. The Amish and the State, supra note 4, at 10. One group of authors refers to the Ordnung as “[a]n informal policy manual of sorts.” Kraybill & Bowman, supra note 2, at 106.


[238]. Hostetler, supra note 1, at 84. Since the sixteenth century, the Amish have kept written records of the Ordnung regulations that are made at special conferences. Id.


[239]. Id. at 86 (quoting Joseph Beiler, Lancaster County, Pa.).


[240]. Although lawsuits are rare, some excommunicated Amish have sued ordained ministers for shunning them or for forbidding them to use technological conveniences. See id. at 336. An Amish man once said: “The trouble with a lawsuit is that if you lose you lose, and if you win, you lose too (in good will).” Id. at 252.


[241]. The Amish and the State, supra note 4, at 10.


[242]. Id. at 14.


[243]. Id. at 11.


[244]. Hostetler, supra note 1, at 271. Once passed along through the Ordnung, specific taboos are difficult to overturn. Kraybill & Bowman, supra note 2, at 131. For example, telephones are still banned from the homes, but some districts permit the installation and use of phones in adjacent business shops. Id. at 132.


[245]. The Amish and the State, supra note 4, at 10.


[246]. Id.


[247]. Kraybill, supra note 63, at 111.


[248]. Id.


[249]. Id. at 112.


[250]. Id.


[251]. Id.


[252]. Id.


[253]. Kraybill, supra note 63, at 79.


[254]. Id. at 112.


[255] Id.


[256]. Id. According to Kraybill, if the congregation disagrees, they have to “recounsel the whole thing.” Id. I assume that the ministers and bishop meet in private again to recommend another punishment until the congregation agrees.


[257]. Id.


[258]. The Amish and the State, supra note 4, at 10; Kraybill, supra note 63, at 114. I Corinthians 5:11 states “But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother or sister who is sexually immoral or greedy, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or robber. Do not even eat with such a one.”


[259]. The Amish and the State, supra note 4, at 11. The Bible instructs the Amish not to “eat” or “keep company” with excommunicated people. See I Corinthians 5:11.


[260]. The Amish and the State, supra note 4, at 10.


[261]. Hostetler, supra note 1, at 86.


[262]. Id. at 87. Usually several warnings are given followed by public excommunication. Id.


[263]. “Even though gossip is generally frowned upon within families, it remains one of the most effective moderating devices in the small, face-to-face Amish community.” Id. at 254.


[264]. Id. at 354-55.


[265]. Id. at 87-88.


[266]. Id.


[267]. Hostetler, supra note 1, at 88.


[268]. Id. at 337.


[269]. Id. at 337-38.


[270]. Id. at 338.


[271]. Id. at 355.


[272]. Id. at 356; see discussion infra Part IV.E.


[273]. Hostetler, supra note 1, at 355; see also infra Part IV.E (discussing legal reform).


[274]. Id. at 355-56.


[275]. Kraybill, supra note 63, at 114.


[276]. Id. Although the excommunication will likely occur quickly, the defendant still has a right to an Amish “trial.” See supra Part IV.B.


[277]. See Kraybill, supra note 63, at 141-87 (discussing the variation among different Ordnungs regarding the use of electricity, automobiles, gasoline engines, and other power machinery).


[278]. Hostetler, supra note 1, at 166.


[279]. Id. The Amish still grow tobacco as a cash crop. Id. at 167.


[280]. Id. at 88.


[281]. The Old Order Amish represent congregations that try to keep the old traditions and resist change unlike the more progressive Mennonites. Id. at 274.


[282]. Id. at 88.


[283]. Id. at 88-89.


[284]. Hostetler, supra note 1, at 335.


[285]. Id. at 335. The community will only shun those who seek justice for themselves. Id.


[286]. The Amish and the State, supra note 4, at 11. The sinner is given time to examine his or her actions and to repent. Hostetler, supra note 1, at 87.


[287]. Hostetler, supra note 1, at 88.


[288]. Id. at 337. “[N]o amount of argument, justification, or logic will aid in reconciliation. A submissive attitude is absolutely necessary.” Id.


[289]. Id. at 88.


[290]. Id.


[291]. Kraybill, supra note 63, at 237.


[292]. Id.


[293]. Id. at 96.


[294]. Id. at 238.


[295]. Id.


[296]. Id.


[297]. Kraybill, supra note 63, at 97.


[298]. Id.


[299]. Hostetler, supra note 1, at 277.


[300]. Id. at 290.


[301]. David E. Yoder, Amish Deception (1997), at (last visited May 3, 2004).


[302]. Id.


[303]. See id.


[304]. Id.


[305]. Id.


[306]. Id.


[307]. Yoder, supra note 301.


[308]. Id.


[309]. Id.


[310]. See (last visited May 16, 2004) [hereinafter Amish Deception Web Site].


[311]. (listing a few Amish public criminal records which include crimes of rape and theft).


[312]. Yoder, supra note 301.


[313]. See Amish Deception Web Site, supra note 310.


[314]. The community excommunicated Yoder’s brother-in-law for a short time for raping his sister, but now the man is a lead preacher in a new Iowa settlement. Yoder, supra note 301, at ch. 27.


[315]. Hostetler, supra note 1, at 252. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” U.S. Const. amend. I.


[316]. The Amish and the State, supra note 4, at 6.


[317]. Id. at 7.


[318]. Id. at 67.


[319]. Id.


[320]. Id. at 68.


[321]. Id. at 7.


[322]. The Amish and the State, supra note 4, at 7, 69-70.


[323]. Id. at 69. “Laymen” must refer to non-clergymen. In 1989, the Committee created a forth position—senior chairman. Id. at 76.


[324]. Id. at 70. Only about half of the Amish young men assigned to military hospital work returned to be baptized as members of the community. Id. at 69. Although most Amish men welcomed the alternative service program (the church farm program), others preferred jail time over work in any government-sanctioned plan. Id. at 72.


[325]. Hostetler, supra note 1, at 78 (quoting John 18:36 “My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight”).


[326]. The Amish and the State, supra note 4, at 73. This Amish exemption was also extended to other jobs that required head protection. Id.


[327]. Id. at 74.


[328]. Id. at 78.


[329]. Id. at 81-82.


[330]. Id. at 76. The bishop who created the Steering Committee intentionally selected laymen as the Committee officials to avoid any conflict among the different Amish groups. Id. at 80.


[331]. Id. When necessary, the Amish can use “Amish taxis” operated and owned by the non-Amish to travel to meetings. Kraybill, supra note 63, at 168.


[332]. The Amish and the State, supra note 4, at 76.


[333]. Id. at 77.


[334]. Id.


[335]. Id. The pamplets are not distributed until about two months after the fall national meeting probably because the Amish method of transportation—horse and buggy—is slow.


[336]. Id. Die Botschaft is an Amish-controlled weekly newspaper composed almost entirely of letters from community ‘scribes’ in Old Order settlements who pass on local news to other subscribers.” Id. at 280 n.17.


[337]. Id. at 77.


[338]. The Amish and the State, supra note 4, at 78.


[339]. Id.


[340]. Id.


[341]. Id. at 78-79 (quoting Robert L. Kidder & John A. Hostetler, Managing Ideologies: Harmony as Ideology in Amish and Japanese Societies, 24 Law & Soc’y Rev. 990 (1990)).


[342]. Id. at 83.


[343]. Id. at 3-4.


[344]. Hostetler, supra note 1, at 267.


[345]. Id.


[346]. Kraybill & Bowman, supra note 2, at 127.


[347]. Although the Amish do not have a blanket exemption from jury duty, the court grants each Amish prospective juror an individual exemption from serving on the jury once the Amish person requests to be excused based on religious grounds. See Alvin Esau, The Amish and Litigation (July 1998), at (last visited Apr. 6, 2004).


[348]. Kraybill & Bowman, supra note 2, at 127 (stating that “[j]ury duty is considered part of the state’s system of force,” but voting “is typically viewed as a personal matter). “Church disciplines of the nineteenth century strictly forbade it [serving on juries], and the restriction remains intact today.” The Amish and the State, supra note 4, at 36.


[349]. Kraybill & Bowman, supra note 2, at 127. In some states the Amish are also exempt from workers’ compensation and unemployment insurance.


[350]. Hostetler, supra note 1, at 264. Before Congress, the Amish stated that “Old-Age Survivors Insurance is abridging and infringing to our religious freedom.” Id.


[351]. Id. at 266.


[352]. Id. Some church districts forbid hospitalization insurance, relying solely on community contributions to pay hospital bills. Id. at 267.


[353]. Id. at 266.


[354]. Id. at 252. LexisNexis and Westlaw searches for the term “Amish” resulted in few cases. Many cases are probably unpublished, and many Amish likely settle or plea bargain to avoid conflict and attention.


[355]. See Yoder, supra note 301.


[356]. See (Oct. 6, 1998).


[357]. Joann Loviglio, Amish Men Sentenced for Drug Roles, Associated Press (June 30, 1999), available at


[358]. Id. The Amish community could not have shunned them because they were not baptized into the church yet.


[359]. State v. Byler, No. 01CA30, 2002 WL 1821749, at *1 (Ohio App. Aug. 2, 2002); Rick Stillion, Byler Headed for Prison, The Daily Jeffersonian, at


[360]. Byler, 2002 WL 1821749, at *1.


[361]. (last visited May 3, 2004) [hereinafter Crime Library Web Site].


[362]. Id.


[363]. Id.


[364]. Id. Gingerich’s parents took his children to raise them.


[365]. Id.


[366]. Id.


[367]. Crime Library Web Site, supra note 361.


[368]. Id.


[369]. Id.


[370]. Kraybill, supra note 63, at 223.


[371]. Id.


[372]. Id.


[373]. Id.


[374]. Hostetler, supra note 1, at 78. Outsiders refer to the Amish as the “gentle people.” Id. at 333-34. The use of social avoidance within the Amish group contradicts this sense of gentleness. Id. at 334.


[375]. Id. at 345.


[376]. Id.


[377]. Id. at 375.


[378] John A. Hostetler, The Amish and the Law: A Religious Minority and Its Legal Encounters, 41 Wash. & Lee L.Rev. 33, 46 (1984).


[379]. Brad Igou, 2002 Amish Series: People of Peace, Victims of Violence, Amish Country News, at (last updated June 3, 2002).


[380]. Id.


[381]. Id.


[382]. Id.


[383]. Id.


[384]. Id.


[385]. Igou, supra note 379.


[386]. Id.


[387]. Hostetler, supra note 1, at 272.


[388]. Id. at 273.


[389]. Id. at 277.


[390]. Id.


[391]. Id. at 309.


[392]. Id.


[393]. Hostetler, supra note 1, at 311. The Amish do not sanction children and those who have not been baptized as harshly for posing for pictures. Id. at 312.


[394]. Id. at 310.


[395]. Id. at 361.


[396]. Id. at 339. The Amish seem to “cheat” their own rules.


[397]. Id.


[398]. Id.


[399]. Hostetler, supra note 1, at 339.


[400]. Id. at 345.


[401]. Id. at 347. The police sometimes raid the Amish Sunday night singings for underage drinking. Id.


[402]. Id.


[403]. Id. at 348. “Clashes of personality, dissent, and mild rebellion ‘are handled by pretending that they do not exist.’ If a father acknowledges the things that happen, then he must choose a course of action, and to act is disruptive.” Id.


[404]. Id. at 350.


[405]. Hostetler, supra note 1, at 384.


[406]. The Amish Struggle with Modernity, supra note 17, at 10. Retention rates vary by settlement and their willingness to adopt social and technological change: 90% (extreme traditionalists), 95% (high traditionalists), 86% (moderate traditionalists), and 57% (low traditionalists). Id. at 10, 72-73, tbl.4.8.


[407]. Kraybill & Bowman, supra note 2, at 136.