Progressive activists and social scientists talk constantly about advocating for and working with communities in a way that neither demonizes them nor romanticizes them, that neither fetishizes them nor mocks them (check out UC Berkeley’s resource list on critical theory and social welfare). A solid rule of thumb is that if you feel like another way of life is idyllic or hellish, you’re not acknowledging the complexity and you’re missing the nuance. Humans are neither inherently good nor inherently evil, which means everything created by humans and every group made up of humans also contains some of both. People do good things with self-service motivations and bad things with the best of intentions.
(Keep scrolling for the video version of this post.)
Why then do we pretend that the Amish are so different from the rest of humanity?
The practicing Amish life is different, but in pretending that the Amish are incapable of wrongdoing, harming others, or committing a crime, we reduce them to a facsimile of humanity. The Amish are not a morality play enacted to teach us a lesson. They are a loosely connected network . . .
. . . of a small population who look different from mainstream modern people, not child-like robots incapable of malice.
William Ball, the lawyer for the defendants in Wisconsin v. Yoder, argues that the Amish had never committed a crime and were inherently good and peaceful, and therefore should not be held accountable by the government. For one moment, acknowledge how absurd of an argument that is on its face. If we argued in a court of law that Catholics or Southerners were incapable of wrongdoing, and therefore should be left to their own devices, we would be laughed out of the court and possibly found in contempt.
Even beyond the troubling precedent that Wisconsin v. Yoder sets, or the utter disregard for the rights of the children in question, it is an insult to Amish people to be reduced to such a blank stereotype, one that refuses to acknowledge their humanity, complexity, and diverse personalities and lives.
The Amish deserve citizenship on equal terms with the rest of Americans. They––particularly the children and women who are denied their basic constitutional rights––deserve to be treated and acknowledged as individuals with agency, not playthings for special interest groups with self-serving motives. Historically, the Amish have been discriminated against and othered by outsiders due to their religion, but by granting them special privileges on the basis of a falsified depiction of innocence and two-dimensionality, the United States government mocks those aspects that are genuinely beautiful about Amish culture.
If a person is inherently good, there is nothing praiseworthy about following the law, or valuing extended family, or treating neighbors with respect, or working with integrity.
If the Amish are incapable of wrongdoing, there is nothing to fear about “the impact that compulsory high school attendance could have on the continued survival of Amish communities as they exist in the United States today” (Wisconsin v. Yoder). If the Amish are inherently perfect, the claim that high school attendance puts children in “an environment hostile to Amish beliefs” makes no sense, because the Amish are immune from anything that would influence them to not be perfect; they would have no problem navigating environments that are hostile to Amish beliefs (Wisconsin v. Yoder). By sanding down the edges of the Amish, Wisconsin v. Yoder removes their humanity.
If activists really believe that the Amish deserve our respect, that they are full American citizens with all of the rights and responsibilities therein, then Amish children must receive an adequate education in accordance with the law and modern developments.
In order to ensure this, we must overturn Wisconsin v. Yoder and we must do so now.
Watch the Video (coming soon)
Keep scrolling for the video version of this post.
V.B., Summer Intern for the Amish Heritage Foundation
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.
“Education is the key to freedom.”— Torah Bontrager, Amish Educator, Writer, Author, Speaker
Amish Culture Courses by Torah Bontrager, www.AmishInsider.com/courses
In partnership with The Amish Heritage Foundation, www.AmishHeritage.org
Amish Insider blog by Torah Bontrager, www.AmishInsider.com