Smoke Detectors Violate Our Religious Beliefs, Say Amish May 21, 2012

Smoke Detectors Violate Our Religious Beliefs, Say Amish

When it comes to Jehovah’s Witnesses and their religiously-motivated reasons to deny blood transfusions, the argument usually goes like this: If adults want to let themselves die for dumb reasons like that, let them. When they let their children die for the same reasons, they’ve gone too far.

A group of Amish men are currently in court because they refuse to install smoke detectors in their New York homes:

(via Blaine Shahan - The Associated Press)

[Amish resident] Andy Miller explained that it would be against their Christian beliefs to have something so modern in their homes.

It did not wash with the judge. Miller and the other Amish men were fined.

They refused to pay — pointing out that that would imply they had accepted that obeying God’s laws was wrong — and how could God be wrong?

Mr Ballan persuaded the judge to stay the case and contacted a religious liberty law firm that has taken it to federal court, where now it sits waiting to be heard.

Director David Belton spoke to one of the Amish men taking this case to court. He asked the man (Mose Miller) why he didn’t want to use a smoke alarm. Miller’s response was horrifying:

“I use this,” he said pointing at his nose, “or him,” and his finger pointed upwards. “I don’t need a devil on the wall to tell me if my house is burning.”

I asked him what would happen if he did not wake up and all his children were burned to death.

“If God does not wake us, well, that must be part of his plan,” Mose told me.

In other words, if something happens to my kids because of my own negligence, it must be part of God’s will.

It’s the same argument used by Christian Scientist parents who refuse to take their children to a hospital in an emergency because they wrongly think God will just magically fix everything.

It’s a bad argument and the safety of others ought to come before the irresponsible habits of deluded people.

What does all this have to do with blood transfusions?

When a blood transfusion is needed, it really only affects the person needing the blood and that person’s family.

When a house catches fire, it can quickly spread to neighboring homes in the community. Failing to detect fires early isn’t just a personal decision — the ramifications are huge.

The Amish deserve to lose this case.

Belton doesn’t think they will:

The chances are Mose and his recalcitrant friends will win their battle — they usually do.

For the sake of everyone else in that community, I hope Belton is wrong.

(Thanks to James for the link)

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  • Bullshit. My father works in the lumber industry, and he works with several Amish sawmills. Phones in their houses, refrigerators that run on propane, diesel generators for the mill… The Amish have no problem with technology when they need it, it just can’t be a convenience.

    Unless this is an overly strict group, the religious argument it bullshit.

  • Mr. Miller’s selfishness and self-centeredness is astounding. As you said, Hemant, a fire not detected in his home might not just kill all his family, but several other families as well.

    He relies on his nose. Does he know what carbon monoxide smells like? It smells like nothing at all. That can kill him long before nasty smelling smoke reaches him.

    “If God does not wake us, well, that must be part of his plan,”

    Ah yes, the famous “plan.” That must be one hell of a complicated plan.

  • “If God does not wake us, well, that must be part of his plan,” Mose told me.”

    His god sounds like a sadist.  

  • Patrick

    I can’t say I agree. I’m assuming this is taking place in an Amish community, in which case I’m assuming all the neighbours are of the same mindset. If they want to risk their collective lives for their dogma, I can laugh and scorn to my heart’s content, but I’ll let them get on with it.

  • Piet Puk

    Studies have shown that scents do not disturb sleep, sounds do.

  • jdm8

    I saw a segment by Brian Unger that showed Amish teens with cell phones, with the parents consenting.  The point is they are lightening up a little bit, at least the ones profiled in the segment, who were Pennsylvania Amish.

  • Alessandro

    I was laughing my pants off when I read this link on integrative fire-fighting and now I really see that sometimes reality exceed comedy.

  • Lee Miller

    If the plan is to have less idiot Christians and other loonies in the world, I could be fine with that.

  • Christi99100

    Do they approve of fire trucks racing to put out their fires, or do they rely on a bucket brigade?  

  • Kevin S.

    Yeah, for the most part, I’ve been fine with leaving the Amish alone when they isolate themselves in their own communities, but A) if they live in an integrated community they have no right to put others at risk and B) they have no right to put their children at risk through negligence. Religious freedom has always ended at the beginning of other people’s rights, and we need to stop pretending it’s absolute.

  • I_Claudia

     Not if there are kids in the house, and it being an Amish house, there almost certainly are. If they are only consenting adults on their own property in a place where it cannot affect other people then maybe it’s ok to make it non-obligatory. But if it’s non-obligatory for them, it has to be non-obligatory for everyone, Amish or not. In any event, kids should not be obligated to live in especially dangerous conditions because their parents hold to a certain dogma.

  • This was my reaction to this story. I live very close to a major population of Amish (if I drive just a few miles North, I have to deal with buggies on the road), and though I don’t subscribe to the faith of the Amish, their approach to technology always struck me as very thoughtful. I was surprised to learn that they are not averse to all technology, but very thoughtful about the effect it has on them. 

    For example, many don’t believe in phones in the home because the phone leads to gossip, but they have phone booths nearby for homes to share for cases where a call would be helpful. They also tend to be averse to technology that encourages the “more is better” mentality – things like irrigation systems, petro powered tractors, etc.

    I don’t claim to be an expert but this guy seems to be far off the reservation if you ask me. And his view is clearly selfish and dangerous to others.

  • Stev84

    There are different denominations of Amish (and conservative Mennonites who are related to them historically), with some taking things more seriously than others.

  • Stev84

    The problem is that legally this truly is a slipper slope. When you allow one group to ignore the law based on their religious beliefs, how to you keep the next one from demanding the same?

  • Tainda

    Were you by chance watching a show on Rumspringa?  When an Amish child turns 16 they are allowed to experience the outside world and decide if they want to go back to the Amish life after 18 or so.  They drink, do drugs and have sex.  Most of them get jobs and cars and live on their own as well.  There’s an interesting documentary about it called The Devil’s Playground.

    There’s also a difference between Mennonites and Amish.

  • It’s time we quit paying obeisance to this kind of delusion. I was in the midwest recently and saw an Amish buggy without a reflector on the back. I don’t know if it is because Ohio law doesn’t require it or because the driver belongs to a very fanatical sect that believes reflectors violate their freedom of religion. But whatever it is, the argument is sheer BS. How about *my* right to see traffic on the road ahead of me and *my* right not to have to run into an idiot living in a pretend 17th century and possibly killing someone, not because I’m at fault but because I see them too late?  Especially since he doesn’t mind having the convenience of a Rubbermaid beverage jug and a plastic cooler on the back of his buggy!

  • thanx for the link – great stuff!

  •  Only for Amish boys, though….

  • Falconer33

    I was thinking something similar looking at the fireman in the photo.

  • jdm8

    Nothing about Rumspringa, which I am aware of.  The show was “How The States Got Their Shapes”.

  • Stop lending a hand to these people. They read the Bible and
    farm, that’s it. Occasionally a kid will defect and that’s
    great, most though with remain on the farm, speaking a very disturbing form of
    Swedish, making quilts and destroying vast acres of forest for timber. Y U NEED
    SO MANY CHURCHES? The ignorance of modern technology is inexcusable simply
    because the tools and appliances they use now happened to be advanced technology
    back when it was used in the first place. Now some want to be exempted from
    having smoke alarms in their homes. Obviously the judge handling the case has a
    moral obligation to worry about the welfare of children in these homes, but I
    don’t, and I say that’s just dandy. Let ‘em burn. When was the last time you’ve
    ever seen someone burn to death for their beliefs in this country?  Also, as a last bit, if
    anyone of you Amish read this: you smell horrid. If you’re going to be out in
    public, USE deodorant .

  •  There’s actually a fair amount of variation among different Amish orders as to what kinds of technology they will accept. These people may be Old Order or even  Swartzentruber, who broke away from the Old Order because they thought the latter were too corrupted by the modern world.

  • NewEnglandBob

    Their god also says it is ok to own slaves. Is that ok too?

    Their god says to kill their children if they disobey. Is that ok too?

    Etc. etc.

    These people are just mindless morons. Throw them in jail for contempt of court and for contempt of reason.

  • Thackerie

    Do these people read the same Bible as other protestants do? Romans 13 is all about submitting to the authority (i.e., the secular law) of whatever country you’re in. Shouldn’t this apply to the situation?

  • Paul Iannacone

    There are several rules to what is allowed and what is not.  and some of it depends on the sect.  

    Most can have a phone, but it is not allowed to be in the house (a lot of them have little outhouse-looking things just outside the door for the phones).  They can use tractors for transportation, but not plow or harvest, and they need metal wheels on the back.  They are also allowed to use many modern conveniences, just not own them (which is why some of the Amish construction workers around here can use power tools).  

    So, a smoke detector in the home would most likely be against the “master plan”, and too worldly for them.  Which is, of course, majorly warped logic.  Please don’t let the children burn, Mr. Miller!

  • This story should be the basis for a “scumbag Amish” meme. 

  • helmichv

    Years ago a similar discussion took place about Lightning Rods. And I lived / grew up in such community (not Amish, but similar in the Netherlands). To use devices to warn or protect you against God’s will or wrath is considered a sin.
    Feelings about that are very strong in such communities. Personally (an Atheist now) I feel that we should be very concerned about freedom of religion and the freedom to live your life the way you see fit.
    I am not sure when or where behaviour like anti Lightning Rod, anti Smoke Detector, anti Blood Transfusion, anti Seat Belt, anti vaccination, crosses the line. We almost can decide when to end your own terminally ill life, against God’s will. (in the Netherlands you can to some degree).

    Can one of you describe a logical line ?

  • Blitzgal

    That was my question.  What fire protection coverage do they have, and is it publicly funded?  If yes, then they need to lose this case.  Requiring fire alarm systems is part of the social contract that we make when we expect to be protected by the fire department in an emergency.

  • Hannah

    I actually respect the Amish a lot.  They’re a cool people and they keep to themselves.  They are allowed many legal exceptions that I don’t have a problem with — they don’t pay into Social Security (because they don’t use it), and they are allowed to be conscientious objectors to the draft.  If this is in an integrated community I can see a point due to the risk of other houses nearby catching fire, but from my understanding the Amish live on farms and their houses are not nearly close enough together for a fire to jump from house to house.  

    Parents have a right to make these choices for their children (and we all know that the vast majority of Amish children choose to stay in the community after Rumspringa).  Parents make a choice about what risks to expose their children to every single day.  To drive in a car, fly on a plane, to sign their kids up for sports with a high risk of injury like football or cheerleading… this is a risk like any other, and given the Amish sect’s religious beliefs, it makes sense that they could object to it.

    I don’t agree with it, but I do think they have the right to make that choice.

  • Pedro Lemos

    Yeah, here´s a logical line to that illogical behaviour. If the lightning rod/seat belt/smoke detector saves his life, wouldn´t that life have been saved by his god will too? I mean, if god allows the construction of such devices by men, it should be because he planned it. I know it´s hard to argument with illogical people, but this kind of thought should make sense to them, no?

  • DavidFairbanks

    The increased risk of dying in a fire is offset by the decreased risk Amish people have of dying in an automobile accident.

    (Most fires are faulty wiring anyway, so the Amish don’t have to worry about that!)

    It would be interesting to live in a majority Amish world where there was a religious minority (or atheist minority) who wanted to drive, but were prevented by Amish, not because it violated their religious ideas, but because driving is dangerous and it puts children at risk of burning to death in a nasty vehicle accident.

  • DavidFairbanks

    I doubt you get accused of understating things, eh Bob?

    I sure hope you aren’t a cop.

  • DavidFairbanks

     I’m driving to lunch, and there is an Amish buggy in front of me right now without a reflector.  Those people are dangerous!

    -sent from my iPhone while applying makeup

  • Carrie

    Absolutely disgusting. It frightens me that people are so willing to put their children in danger. Not to mention their neighbors. As a sidenote, horses would have a lot of trouble pulling the thousands of gallons of water on a tender from the local fire department. And what of the gas-powered pump to get the water through the hoses?! Oh, well, guess the plan is homelessness? 

  • kristyfrey

    Apparently, I have devils all over my walls, ready to warn me of a fire.  He’s the bad guy?

  • Baby_Raptor

    The logical line is when your beliefs start risking others. The old phrase “Your right to swing your fist ends at the tip of my nose” comes to mind.

  • Old Order Amish live off the grid, but most sects have no problem with battery-powered devices. And Pennsylvania long ago ordered the Amish to light their buggies at night after there were too many fatal accidents. I think that went to the Supreme Court.
    Of course what happens on public property (roads) is different from what goes on in the home.
    Tough call, but I’d side with the Amish.
    (A dog trained to bark on smoke alert would be more effective and fit into the Ordnung.)

  • IckyPants

    At least they make nice furniture.

  • mcsween

    What about all their candles?  Don’t you think that offsets the risk of bad wiring a bit?

  • Miko

    Since we claim to be an evidence-based community, I’m sure a post like this would be full of data on the number of Amish children who have died because they didn’t have smoke alarms.  Oh wait: no data.  But that’s okay: this faith-based argument on why they should be required to violate their beliefs is good too.

  • So what if there are kids? If I don’t like you have signed your son up for football because he could have major concussions, can I stop you for “the sake of your child?” Please. You put your child in a car, the #2 killer of children under the age of 21. Shall you stop doing that now? Or shall I stop you with a court order because it is so dangerous for your child? 

  • But the children have only the rights granted to them by the parents. The constitution is for adults, not for children. They are intentionally not addressed in the constitution at all. 

  • alt+3

    You know, I criticize religious folks a lot for not calling out the shit heads in their ranks so it’d be pretty hypocritical of me to let this go unchallenged. NewEnglandBob, you need to either smarten up or shut up, you’re making the rest of us look bad.

  • Ben

    I grew up literally 20 miles from the sect in the article. Leave them alone. The first amendment gives them the right to worship as they please. They own their land, do not use public utilities (not that there are any up there anyway) and do not send their children to the public schools. They keep to themselves. Leave them be.  

  • helmichv

    In that case I side with the Amish. Not having a smoke detector does not risk others.

  • Jcr

    How about this?

  • Barbara Schaarschmidt

    The atheist community (of which I am a part) is consistently stating that we don’t want the religious communities to try to force their beliefs on us – that we have the right to live as atheists without being forced to bend to policies that are dictated by the beliefs of others.

    The Amish are a community that believe very differently than I do.  But they are a community that lives by their beliefs and does absolutely nothing to try to push their beliefs onto me or others.  They are self-sufficient and in no way lobby to change any policy that would have an effect on me or my family.

    They deserve to live without my interference as I have to live without theirs.  I say we leave them alone.  It’s not our place to force a technology on them that they believe is wrong – even if we don’t agree with that belief.

  • Stev84

    It depends. If they want the fire department to come to their land and help them (and some do as evidenced by the picture) then they are not entirely self-sufficient and can be expected to the follow the normal laws and regulations when it comes to fire safety.

    And as other people noted, there are differences between Amish sects. They don’t necessarily reject all kinds of technology.

  • Lamocla

    Does peoples are ignorant and they’ll stay ignorant because they choose to stay ignorant.

  • pervlibertarian

    Candles lit means someone is awake…

  • Lisa Webb

    Do some serious reading, Hannah, and you might lose a little of that respect. I came to see them differently after becoming aware of their animal abuse (especially puppy mills) & refusal to adhere to environmental protections.

  • pervlibertarian

    Rationalizing sin is considered a sin in itself. I am not disagreeing with your logic or reason, but faith is often about what is “right” VERSUS reason. In the case of the Amish shunning addresses those who value reason more than faith, allowing the shunned to find a community with like minded souls, and the Amish to maintain their faith as they see fit. There are many plus sides to such arrangements, versus the meddling of dominionists and abstract artists alike.

  • kristyfrey

    Interesting that you mention the car analogy.  We have child restraint laws that just might get you a court order to stop putting your child in a car if you refuse to use the proper restraints.

  • pervlibertarian

    No, only the vast majority of those who reintegrate happen to be the boys.

  • pervlibertarian

    Any Amish who won’t use a smoke detector likely has no electricity in their home. In such a home, when the family is asleep and the candles and lanterns put out, where is the fire danger? THESE PEOPLE LIGHT AND HEAT THEIR HOMES WITH FLAME, and idiots want to force them to put a “chirping devil” in their homes to tell them “OMG, there is smoke in here!” NO SHIT SHERLOCK. When the family is asleep, the flames are put out, and since they don’t live in the same light polluted, rank miasma as the rest of us, Mr. Miller is not wrong to suppose an adult should wake up in time to get the family out at the first hint of light flickering across their eyelids or the scent or sound of anything burning that shouldn’t.

  • kristyfrey

    12% of candle fires are attributed to someone falling asleep while they are still lit –

  • Lamocla

    Why don’t they live like jesus time or Adam and Eve if they don’t believe in technology.

  • Conflicted

    As someone who likes to put the things I want in my house and not the things I don’t want, I side with the Amish. How many of us have guns in our homes? Some would say that’s unsafe, but they are allowed to do so. Some people have old stoves with always-lit pilot flames. Potentially quite dangerous, but we are allowed to keep them. Keep your laws out of my private life.

    As someone who has railed against xian scientists who,let their kids die of treatable conditions, I see the conflict there, but I still side with the Amish. I have had smoke detectors for decades and they have never saved my life, but they have been hella annoying at times. I will keep them, but I have been extremely slow to replace bad batteries at times. I don’t think I should be prosecuted for that.


    But the children have only the rights granted to them by the parents.

    If that’s the case, your law needs to be fixed, now.


  • Gabagoo

    reading all these comments, I think the Amish are under-represented in this comment section.  Would like to hear from some Amish what they think

  • I walked past a woman pushing her grossly obese little girl in a shopping cart in Meijer yesterday.
    The odds of this child developing diabetes in her lifetime are fairly high. She could potentially be disabled from complications arising from her obesity or even die from diabetes. Her obesity is easily preventable.
    Should we pass laws on how fat parents can let their kids get and then fine the mother and/or imprison her?
    This whole crusade to rid the world of stupid assholes is a bit extreme and more than a bit naive in my opinion.
    Leave them alone. Leave me alone. Everybody just leave everybody else the fuck alone.

  • Lamocla

    Google. Amish house burn down. You will find horrific stories.

  •  What you said.

  • Yeeeaaah… most Amish don’t speak Swedish. Go read a book, you sound like a complete nixnootz.

  • Except the Amish pick and choose which of “the devil’s” creations they use.  They can’t drive in cars, but can ride in them.  They can have phones—in their barn.

    Here we have smoke detectors, which can protect not only their own family but their neighbors and the fire fighters that would respond.  The least they can do is install battery operated smoke detectors.

    Seriously, in an advanced nation why do we let these religious freaks opt out of society?

  • Charon

     Of course it does! You can have arguments about the government’s right to impose on people purely for their own safety (like seatbelts), but smoke detectors are nothing of the sort. A fire in your house threatens those around you, whether you’re in a city or in a cabin in the middle of the woods.

    A single point of ignition can threaten an entire city or forest. Early detection gives you the best chance to stop it.

  • Charon

    Yeah, I remember when I visited the US Constitution as a kid, I was disappointed that they had one of those “you must be this tall to have rights” signs out in front. And when the census didn’t count me until I was 18. Or was that 21? Or only if I owned land? Constitutional law is confusilating.


  • Viscant

    Just because parents put their children at risk every day doesn’t mean we should allow it. Forcing fire detectors on the foolish amish seems to be a good start. Incorrect beliefs don’t deserve freedom of choice. 

  • TheAnalogKid
  • TheAnalogKid
    As long as they keep to themselves, right?

  • Barbara Schaarschmidt

     Regarding the fire department, I don’t know if this particular sect would expect the fire department to show up.  If not, that argument doesn’t hold water.

    As for “where do we draw the line”?  That’s hard.  But the fact is this family believes that smoke detectors are dangerous.  I believe they have the right to not have a smoke detector.

    I’d be very interested to know how the story came about to begin with.  I have a hard time believing that a fire martial just “happened” to notice that there wasn’t a smoke detector in this house.  Either a) he had another reason to be there, in which case there are more facts that need to be considered, or b) he made it his business to go and find out, which really smacks of harassment to me.  I’ve never had a fire martial check out my house for smoke detectors.

    You can’t use the slippery slope argument.  Otherwise, every single person who ever committed any single infraction (right down to jaywalking) could be used as a “dangerous precedent”.  It’s important to use common sense in this world.

  •  Far as I’m concerned, safety trumps ideology.

  • Former Thumper

    Sure, they’ll just hop on their computers and type responses. I think that they should be allowed to refuse the smok detectors only if they also go without the fire departments fancy technology as well.

  • You’re being sarcastic, right?

  • Onamission5

    Because no one in history has ever fallen asleep while burning a candle, and caused a house fire?

  • What you’ve written in the first two paragraphs is the way I’ve always understood it. While I think their approach is rooted in a lot of misunderstandings, I’ve always thought that the rest of us would benefit from a little thoughtfulness about technology. Not using tractors for farming because that would lead to wanting more to farm makes a bit of sense to me. (Of course, one of the major problems with modern transportation is the tendency to spread, so I’m not sure why they think that’s okay – perhaps since tractors don’t go that fast.)

    The “outhouse-looking things” are what I called phone booths. 🙂

    So, what I don’t get is why smoke detectors violate any principle. What sin does it promote – not trusting God to wake you up? I’m still surprised by that. Perhaps their approach is not as thoughtful as I believed.

  • pervlibertarian

    So you’re telling me one in ten examples of a relatively rare event is a perfect counterpoint to my argument? I swear I had no idea. Did you also dig and find that only 1% of home fires were caused by candles from 1980 through 1993, and even though candle fires’ share of all home fires is going up as the total number of yearly fires decreases, they still only constitute 1 in 20 home fires? The peak month and day for candle fires is December and Christmas day, respectively; Meaning a large portion of candle fires, if not most or all, are caused by people who don’t use candles regularly.

    My statements also left out the fact that most who use flame for light would actually opt for oil lamps. Such people are much more aware of the fire dangers surrounding them than you or I with our fancy fire alarms, and yes I have them in every room in my home, but I also have aluminum wiring and recently addressed a gas leak. The Amish don’t have those concerns in their homes.

  • kristyfrey

    No, I didn’t dig for data from years 1980-1993.  I went for more recent data.

  • C

    A government mandate to buy a private industry product that also happens to be radioactive is idiotic.  It’s certainly not “neglect” to refuse it, whatever the reason.  Of the two, you’re the more self-righteous. 

  • The Other Weirdo

    Can’t decide if Poe or just someone who hasn’t watched CSI episodes about fires. But the comments are hilarious, and spot on!

  • god of Justice

    Incorrect beliefs don’t deserve freedom of choice.” That has to be the dumbest quote ever. Why exactly would we need to protect “correct” beliefs whatever that even means. If you want religion out of your bedroom stay out of theirs.

  • Drozy
  • Tom

    It’s not very meaningful to quote a low fraction of fires caused by candles or oil lamps in homes overall when most homes don’t regularly use, or even contain, either – you can’t derive any data on the relative safety of electrical vs. non-electrical from that.

    A far more useful metric would be to compare the incidence rate of candle fires in candle-lit homes, to oil lamp fires in oil-lit homes, to electrical fires in electrified homes; then you’d have actual comparable figures on the statistical safety of each.

  • pervlibertarian

    You have such meaningful figures then?

    Amish home fires by and large would have two causes: lightning and candles/oil-lamps. If only 1% of home fires were caused by candles back when their use was more common, and the peak day for such fires is now Christmas, meaning in homes where candles are not otherwise used, we can infer that the majority of the so-called increase in the incidence of candle fires stems from infamiliarity, NOT from regular use.

    My point was exactly what you stated “It’s not very meaningful to quote a … fraction of fires caused by candles or oil lamps in homes when most home don’t regularly use, or contain, either”. That is certainly TRUE today, however it was dramatically less so prior to 1993, this it is that RECENT statistics are LESS relevant to this topic, as no one is claiming candle use is actually on th rise.

  • pervlibertarian

    Please see my reply to Tom. Recent data is actually LESS applicable to this issue.

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