The United States versus the Amish Minority

By: Frederique Green   Frederique Green  

The Amish have largely resisted acculturation since their arrival in America in the eighteenth century. Given that over time the American authorities have increasingly developed laws, rules and regulations, the U.S legal system has come into regular conflict with Amish religious practices over matters such as education and conscription. Pioneers in Amish scholarship have mostly suggested that the Amish have been open to negotiation with the State, reflecting the peaceful way Amish people deal with life in general. Sociologist Donald Kraybill for example has discussed a "negotiation mode" in which the Amish have sometimes "compromised" their ideals. This paper presents an alternative legal view: based on interviews, legal documents and case studies, it argues that when challenged by the American authorities the Amish have not compromised but have used the legal tools provisioned by the American Founders to all citizens, i.e. the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the American Constitution. My theory is that the Amish have not always needed to ‘bargain’ with the American authorities or compromise but as American citizens have lawfully and successfully challenged rules that impinge on their religious practices. In this way, the paper shows that a secular constitution can still protect counter-cultural minority religious rights. This paper thus offers a contribution to the wider discussion of secularism, for example the work of Saba Mahmood, about how religious rights interact with the processes of liberal democracies.

Politics, Religion, Amish
The Politics of Religion
Paper Presentation in a Themed Session

Frederique Green

Private tutor, Modern Languages, Self-employed

I am a French native with British nationality. I am a mature PhD researcher from the University of Birmingham (UK) and my subject of research is: An analysis of the dialogical exchange between the American politico-legal system and the Amish. I am looking at cases involving Amish people in different areas, ranging from criminal cases, to civil cases, health issues challenging Amish beliefs, zoning, schooling etc. The crucial point is to understand how the American authorities have, historically, interacted with the Amish Christian minority, and to delineate a pattern of the Amish using their Constitutional rights. My focus is on the States of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana and Upstate New York. Interviewing a Congressman, several judges and attorneys, Commissioners, non-Amish and Amish American citizens has greatly enriched my understanding of the mechanisms of the American legal apparatus. My next field trip in the autumn of 2018 should add some more empirical data to consolidate my theory.

Frederique Green