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Amish Say Horse Diapers Violate Their Religious Freedom

Two men are suing a Kentucky town, claiming a new ordinance is targeting their faith by mandating the horses they use wear diapers.

Photo illustration by Sarah Rogers/The Daily Beast

Horse shit is serious business in one Amish community.

Two members of an conservative Amish sect have filed a civil suit against the city of Auburn, Kentucky, saying that a new ordinance regarding horse diapers violates their religious freedom. The plaintiffs, Dan Mast and Emanuel Miller, say the ordinance was specifically intended to target members of their religious group.

Officials say the Amish leave behind horse manure throughout town, which poses a health concern out in the streets. The city’s mayor even reportedly claimed that a child slipped in the manure and fell on his way to school. But the Amish say the law was intended to target them for their religious beliefs and that they clean up just fine without the diapers.

Because the Amish don’t use modern technology like cars, they largely travel by horse and buggy or, as the lawsuit states, “are forced to travel on foot.” Mast has already been prosecuted for violating the ordinance (he was fined $193 in 2015), while Miller says he inevitably will be because he keeps driving his horse and buggy in Auburn.

But this lawsuit is just the latest installment in a decade-long drama that began when the Old Order Swartzentruber Amish, a conservative sect, settled in Auburn in the mid-2000s.

The city council first flagged the manure problem in 2007, and Auburn’s mayor asked the Amish to start attaching the diapers to their horses. They refused on the grounds it would infringe upon their free exercise of religion. The council considered amending the existing dog-waste ordinance to include horse manure—which they suggested was a “health issue” rather than being purely aesthetic.

“The specific purpose of the Ordinance was to target the Amish so that they could be criminally prosecuted for refusing to use equine diapers,” the lawsuit alleges, noting that only Amish horses came up in discussions of the law. “The Swartzentruber Amish, including Plaintiffs, carry shovels with them to provide an effective means of waste removal without having to affix and equine diaper to their horses.”

But Mayor Mike Hughes insisted that the ban was nothing personal in an interview with local radio station WKU.

“They’re our neighbors, I buy my produce from [Dan Mast’s father] and his wife. They’ve been in my home to discuss this issue, I’ve been in their home to discuss this issue,” Hughes said. “We’ve been trying to handle it locally inside of Auburn for years and not come to writing citations that were enforceable here in the county court system. Unfortunately, it’s come to this and we had to move to this point, something we tried to avoid for many, many years.”

The so-called equine diaper is a contraption that wraps around the horse’s body and hind legs, and has a receptacle to catch any manure dropped along the way.

The provision was finally added in 2014, but not before the Amish took a vote to decide that they wouldn’t allow diapers. According to the lawsuit, the matter was settled by the group’s elders in consultation with members and neighboring Amish communities, and added to their Ordnung, or set of rules.

“Plaintiffs could not, and cannot, change the Ordnung; they are bound to follow it as a matter of their religious faith,” the lawsuit contends.

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If the plaintiffs were to obey the law by diapering their horses, the lawsuit claims they would be “shunned” by their community.

But the plaintiffs are in a special bind: Their literalist Amish religious beliefs also prohibit them from paying fines. So when Mast, one of the plaintiffs, was found guilty by a jury in May 2015 and ordered to pay $193, he refused.

Mast served 10 days in jail instead.

“[H]e was exposed to offensive language and conduct, and was photographed, all of which is generally frowned upon by the Amish community as a matter of religious principle,” the lawsuit adds.

His father wound up in jail for 20 days over a similar violation. The lawsuit alleges that there are 27 other active cases against Amish men for violating the law, and that all the citations were issued by the same police chief.

Auburn isn’t the only city to have such a problem: Lawmakers in Selma, Alabama, passed a similar ordinance in 2013, but it is widely ignored. And Selma doesn’t have an Amish population that claims it’s being targeted because its beliefs are out of step with modernity.

A similar lawsuit was filed in Auburn in November, but even that is hard for the Amish to accomplish. And Dan Mast’s brother, John, was found not guilty in a surprise jury verdict in January. His only defense was that he felt discriminated against.

“I have a friend but we’re not allowed to hire a lawyer, we’d be enforcing the law then if we did,” Amos Mast, Dan Mast’s father, told WKU radio last year. “Our law is the Bible.”