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Saturday, March 17, 2012

Courts - Still more on "Ky. court will hear appeal by Amish: Safety triangles at issue in case "

Updating this ILB entry from July 3, 2011, the Louisville Courier Journal has a March 15th story by Peter Smith headed "Kentucky high court hears Amish buggy case." The story begins:

No justice on Kentucky’s Supreme Court disputed Thursday that a law requiring bright orange-red triangles on the rear of horse-drawn buggies imposes a burden on the consciences of those Amish who believe that using them would violate their religion.

But members of the court grilled lawyers for the Amish and the commonwealth over whether that burden was unconstitutional — or whether the state’s need to regulate highway safety trumped religious objections.

“Isn’t the question here not whether the religious exercise of the particular Amish family involved here has been infringed upon but whether that infringement is permissible?” asked Deputy Chief Justice Mary C. Noble. * * *

“The issue is not whether the law is superior to religious beliefs,” Christian Miller of the Kentucky Attorney General’s office argued in defense of the emblem requirement. “These gentlemen may believe whatever they want. The issue is whether they do not have to follow a law that everyone else does.”

But attorney William Sharp of the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky cited a guarantee in the Kentucky Constitution that no “human authority shall, in any case whatever, control or interfere with the rights of conscience.”

That, said Sharp, is an even broader protection than that of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which lower courts have already ruled does not grant the Amish an exemption from the emblem requirement.

“The rights of conscience would seem to protect … a refusal to do acts that would be contrary to one’s religious beliefs,” he said. * * *

Most Amish groups are willing to use the triangles, but those challenging the law belong to the strict Old Order Swartzentruber movement, which opposes their use. They propose instead using lanterns and white or gray reflective tape.

Both houses of the Kentucky General Assembly have passed measures allowing the use of reflective tape instead of the triangles, and the Senate measure is on the House agenda for Thursday.

The legislation may make the Supreme Court appeal irrelevant for future buggy cases, but it could have implications for the broader question of the extent of religious freedom under the state Constitution.

Also interesting is this March 16th post by Steve Eder in the WSJ Law Blog, headed "Amish Have Their Day in Court." The linked letter is particularly worth reading.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on March 17, 2012 01:58 PM
Posted to Courts in general