Although the Amish follow a lifestyle that differs markedly from that of most Americans, their fundamental religious beliefs are similar. The Amish are Protestant Christians. Yet, that is where many of the similarities between the Amish and modern Americans end. The Amish lifestyle is defined by their avoidance of modern technology and their separation from mainstream culture. Many of their beliefs bring them into direct conflict with American laws. These controversial beliefs often necessitate contact with the United States court system.
Many Amish beliefs conflict with American legal mandates. The Amish are strict pacifists, so they do not believe in participating in military campaigns of any kind. This brings them into conflict with Selective Service's registration laws. The Amish pay taxes, but the tax code presents them with several moral obstacles. First, many Amish feel uncomfortable with their money being used to fund the military. Second, the Amish are opposed to any government-sponsored insurance, such as Social Security. The Amish also find themselves in conflict with United States education laws. They believe prolonged exposure to secular schools places their children's spiritual health at risk. Each of these beliefs necessitates contact between the Amish and the American legal system.
Pacifist Conflict Resolution
One of the hallmarks of Amish belief is a strict adherence to principles of pacifism. In general, the Amish regard legal battles as a form of confrontation and go to great lengths to avoid them. The Amish tend to favor community-based conflict resolution when possible. If an issue becomes apparent, the Amish will first try to resolve it within their own community. If no internal resolution can be found, they will then try to negotiate with local officials. It is only when an issue cannot be resolved through either of these channels that the Amish will consider going to court.
The Amish try to maintain a stance of non-resistance, wherein they refuse to participate in American legal mandates that conflict with their religious beliefs, but accept the punishment for disobeying the conflicting laws willingly. However, some ongoing issues, such as compulsory education, require resolution. In these instances the Amish tend to lean on non-Amish legal representation. The National Committee for Amish Religious Freedom is an organization that was founded by a Lutheran minister. It is dedicated to fighting legal battles on behalf of the Amish so that they can avoid the courts as much as possible.
Growing state and federal regulation has increased Amish contact with the American legal system. Issues including health insurance mandates, photo identification laws and zoning requirements have become controversial wedge issues. In order to ensure that their beliefs continue to be represented in these new legal struggles, the Amish have formed state-level steering committees to interact with the legal system on an ongoing basis. As the powers of government continue to expand, the Amish are forced into more contact with the courts everyday.