Religion and Spirituality

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Paul Beaty/AP
Amish boys fill sandbags to combat the flood waters from the Mississippi River at the Pike
County Fairgrounds in Pleasant Hill, Ill. (AP)

As Amish Population Grows, So Do Misunderstandings

August 21, 2008 02:27 PM
by Rachel Balik
The Amish population has doubled in the past 16 years; as a result, they are expanding into states unfamiliar with their practices.

Amish Population Has Doubled in Size

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America’s Amish population has grown from 125,000 in 1992 to 231,000 in 2008. Sociology professor Donald Kraybill says this is because the Amish have strict rules about marrying within the faith, reports Reuters. The populations of other religious groups often suffer as a result of intermarriage, but an Amish marrying outside the faith faces excommunication, a powerful deterrent.

In response to its growing population, the Amish community is spreading beyond Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana, the three states that previously held a majority of the community. The number of Amish communities throughout the United States has increased by 82 percent and are scattered across 28 different states. Amish people have branched out to states previously uninhabited by their ancestors, such as Arkansas, Colorado, Maine, Mississippi, Nebraska, Washington and West Virginia, reports the Associated Press.

While a small part of the growth is due to conversions, other explanations include a high fertility rate and healthier children overall. Amish couples have an average of 5 children, and 80 percent of them grow up to practice the faith. But now many families are seeking cheaper farmland in states other than those in which they were raised. They look for places where they can keep to themselves, farm inexpensively and find work in construction or furniture making.

Many communities are happy to have them, but Amish have faced some friction in their new locations. “They are moving into new states and settling or establishing new settlements in communities where local officials aren’t acquainted with them. That creates some misunderstanding on zoning issues or other unique factors in Amish practice,” Kraybill told the Associated Press.

Implications of Expansion: Clashes with the community

In Pennsylvania, there are often accidents involving buggies and cars, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported in May 2008. Although much focus is placed on ensuring buggies are safe at night, the sun can cause a problem during the day as well, blinding drivers. In addition, buggy drivers and car drivers have quite different experiences in transit. Motorists, one buggy builder said, “have fax machines, cell phones, radios, television, and they're not paying attention to their driving. Someone driving a horse has to pay attention—and they don’t watch television. You have two worlds colliding here.” In addition, many churches forbid the proper orange tape and lights because they are too ostentatious to meet religious guidelines. “We are trying to educate ourselves and our customers to the need of adequate markings, but we are hampered by those church groups that still feel it’s unnecessary to have all these gaudy, bright lights and batteries," another buggy builder said.

Amish men in Wisconsin got into trouble for similar reasons when they refused to wear orange clothing while deer hunting, saying that bright orange clothing was too flashy to be permitted by their religion. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel describes other violations of state law by the Amish, which have increased as more Amish move to Wisconsin.

Reference: More about the Amish

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