Al Jazeera America’s Kevin Williams notes growing conflicts between Amish and their non-Amish neighbours in the United States.
In this rural outpost near the border with Tennessee, Amish women park their horse-drawn buggies at the edge of town and walk in dragging wooden wagons behind them, returning with goods stacked high. Some avoid town altogether. They fear ending up like Amos Mast and Dan Mast, an Amish father and son who face the possibility of jail for refusing to pay fines for not attaching a bag behind their horse to catch manure. The Masts say the bags spook the horses and that paying the town’s fines would set an unwelcome precedent.
“I used to have a lot of Amish customers, but I haven’t had an Amish customer in the past three to four months. They used to come in every day. I don’t know how many dollars’ worth of belts I bought just for them that are now just sitting there. They power everything with gasoline engines, and they need belts for them to run,” said Glen Sears, the owner of Glen’s Hardware. He said many Amish now go to the town of Franklin, 13 miles away, for supplies.
Soon they may not even be going there. Most of the Amish around Auburn, according to Margie Reed, a friend and neighbor to many of the local Amish, are preparing to pack up and move to Pennsylvania, which has historically been very accommodating to the Amish.
Auburn, Kentucky is one of many towns where locals appear to be increasingly clashing with the Amish over traditional practices. Diane Umble, the dean of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at Millersville University in Pennsylvania, has studied Amish culture extensively. She attributes many of these conflicts to the combination of a growing Amish population and a small group of Amish who are resistant to compromising on their traditions and balk at government rules.
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With a historically high birthrate for the Amish and less and less available farmland, these issues will continue to grow, Umble said, as they keep moving to new areas. Most estimates say the Amish population in the USA doubles every generation. So with currently about 200,000 church members, more and more rural space is needed to accommodate the groups.