America: Not An Amish Paradise

It seems slightly unfair to criticize the Amish on the Internet, because by definition, no devout Amish (and my understanding is that there is no other kind) is going to be reading this or be able to effectively respond.
But, I’m going to do it anyway. Who says the holiday spirit is dead?
Apparently, some folks think its a good idea to enshrine special privleges for the Amish in Ohio law:
The Amish, who shun judging others under their faith, would be excused from jury service on religious reasons under a bill sent to Governor Bob Taft for a signature…
Ohio judges routinely release Amish who cite religious principles when they get called for jury duty, Geauga County Common Pleas Judge Forrest Burt said.
The county assembles a new pool of potential jurors every four months. About 10 Amish are excused each time, Burt said, most often after they quote a verse from Matthew’s Gospel: “Judge not, that ye be not judged.”

So the idea is to create a legal right to avoid jury duty for a special segment of the population who have a certain set of religious beliefs that the government has decided are deserving of protection not given to any other religious beliefs. (Paging the establishment clause! Establishment clause, please call your office…)
Yes, I think this is a horrible idea. The special nature of jury duty essentially requires voluntary participation: unlike paying taxes, you can’t really force a person to serve on a jury and get the result you were looking for. So I understand if judges have to exempt individual Amish from jury service — I don’t like it, but I accept it. But elevating that practice to law is both unnecessary and a disasterous precedent.
Being a citizen of the United States should mean the exact same thing to anyone, regardless of race or religion. That means every citizen should have the same rights, and the same responsibilities. But this law would give the Amish a pass on one of the key responsibilities: and ironically, it is being championed because the fear of jury service is actually causing the Amish to voluntarily surrender one of their rights:
The intent of the exemption is to encourage more Amish to sign up to vote, said state Rep. Tim Grendell, a Geauga County Republican who inserted the provision in a larger jury service bill.
Ohio courts pick prospective jurors from lists of registered voters or licensed drivers.
The Amish, who don’t drive and aren’t on the license lists, often forgo voting. Studies put Amish voter participation at less than 10 percent.
“They’re being disenfranchised from their voting rights because of concerns about jury duty,” said Grendell, whose district includes a sizable Amish settlement around Middlefield east of Cleveland.

This actually seems a reasonably satisfactory outcome, to me. In an ideal world, the Amish would be deprived of the right to trial-by-jury, to balance their refusal to participate in providing that same right to their fellow citizens. But sacrificing the right to vote will do, I suppose.
This is the exact same issue that we face with recent immigrants to America, and which Europe faces with increasing pockets of Muslim immigrants who refuse to assimilate. America and other modern democracies are based on the principle that there are certain rights and responsibilities that every citizen has that form the boundries of our society. Those boundaries have been quite deliberately framed as broadly as possible, so that there’s a wide degree of freedom for different religious and political beliefs within them.
But at the end of the day, if you want to play our little open-society game, you’ve got to sign up to the basic rules. Equal rights for all people. Freedom of speech. Trial by jury. Paying taxes (how much should be paid is one of those arguable points). And yes, serving on a jury.
Carve out a special exemption for the Amish to refuse this responsibility of citizenship, and why shouldn’t we offer every religious group the legal right to pick and choose the parts of our system that they like and dislike?
The rules are consistent for a reason, and with all due respect to the Amish, they should stay that way…

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