Talk of changing a zoning code that prevents some Amish families from keeping horses has turned from a local spat into a religious-freedom issue.
The three supervisors of Walker Township, Pa., heard arguments from townspeople and Amish folk about the zoning law that prohibits horses on properties under a certain size, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
The issue came to a head last year when the township cited Daniel King, because the multifamily zoning designation barred him from keeping his horse on his 0.8 acres.
Township officials said the zoning code is an attempt to keep horses from becoming a nuisance and not a slap at Amish in the community, which is becoming more upscale as population spills over from nearby State College, Pa.
Daniel Beiler, King’s neighbor, was also in violation of the township’s zoning laws by keeping his horse on his five acres.
According to Associated Press, King and Beiler gained support from other area Amish families when they began circulating a petition that would allow residents to keep a single horse on parcels less than two acres.
They netted 188 signatures and even tried to make their petition more palatable to officials by proposing limits on the size of manure storage areas and setbacks from neighbor’s properties.
Horses are essential for transportation for the Amish, who generally shun modern conveniences such as electricity, telephones and cars. Although Amish traditionally have worked in agriculture, as farming became less profitable, they have moved into other industries.
For now, township officials aren’t sure how they will vote on the zoning issue, the Post-Gazette reported.
Donald B. Kraybill, senior fellow at the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies at Elizabethtown College, told AP that although it is rare for Amish to become so involved in a political situation, it is not unheard of.
Amish have signed petitions and lent support on issues like halting low-level flights by the Air National Guard over an area of western Wisconsin and opposition of the construction of Interstate 69 in southeastern Indiana.
“It’s not a first-time thing in Amish history, but it’s not typically done,” Kraybill told AP. “It’s seen as a way to try to garner political support and show the amount of support for their position without resorting to litigation.”
Amish simplicities often clash with modern ideas and technologies.
Some Amish communities refuse to place orange reflective markers on their horse-drawn buggies, which many states require to be visible on slow-moving vehicles like tractors.
The American Civil Liberties has stood behind some more conservative Amish groups in Pennsylvania as they battled to use a less showy gray reflective tape on their buggies. Ohio and four other states allow the gray reflective tape to be used in place of orange triangles.
Jodi Mathews is news writer for EthicsDaily.com.