Abstract Musings

Documenting the random thoughts of a cluttered mind

Don't Pick on the Amish

N.Z. Bear is picking on the Amish. Okay not really, but he is taking exception to the state of Ohio for granting an legal exception for jury duty to the Amish. It seems that the Amish as a tenet of their faith don’t want to judge others, citing Matthew 7:1 “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.” As a result potential Amish jurors are excused by the court. So far, so good. If someone has a reasonable reason, like a religious objection or a medical condition, for not wanting (or being able) to participate in our justice system as a juror then we shouldn’t (and in reality, we can’t) force them to participate.

The reason for the law is an attempt to increase voting participation among the Amish.

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.

N.Z. Bear believes this exchange to be an acceptable one.

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.

But the problem with this is that it allows a “backdoor” disenfranchisement of the Amish. They shouldn’t be forced to lose their right to vote, because they can’t (or won’t) participate in as a juror in our trial system due to religious reasons.

A better solution, rather than setting a legal precedent that enshrines the Amish as some sort of protected class, would be to change the method of choosing prospective jurors. If the concern is that the Amish won’t participate due to concerns over jury duty, then don’t use voter rolls to choose jurors. Use property tax lists, or something similar to that. That would alleviate any concerns that tie jury duty to voter rolls and maintain the status quo. The Amish, then able to participate in voting freely, would not be disenfranchised, and the precedent for exempting people from jury duty or other unpopular civic duties would not be set.

Ultimately, I think that this law will have little effect in increasing voter participation among the Amish. They strike me as wanting as little to do with the outside world as possible, and I suspect that includes politics as well.