The Amish are a plain, tight-knit community that can be found across the United States, mostly in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and surrounding states. The history of the Amish began in 1693 in Switzerland within a group of Swiss and Alsatian Anabaptists led by the Swiss Mennonite leader Jakob Ammon. He broke off from the church and other Swiss Mennonite leaders and formed his own branch. Those who followed him became known as Amish. They began migrating to Pennsylvania from Europe in the 18th century due to war, poverty, and religious persecution.
But enough with the history lesson; let’s get to the good stuff. Ever see a horse and buggy “driving” down the side of the road, especially in one of the aforementioned areas? Well, they may very well be Amish, but don’t be fooled by the simple clothing and appearance of law-abiding, God-fearing, Bible-toting citizens.
But I won’t give away all the juicy details just yet. The bottom line is, appearances can be deceiving. We all know this. We cannot judge a book by its cover, so we should not do so for those among us who look so innocent, like the Amish. The truth is that you never know what a person- Amish or otherwise- is really up to. Looks mean nothing. At the end of the day, the Amish are just people like you or I, and we are all susceptible to evil. As a whole, the Amish may look safe (and they may make a damn fine pecan pie), but they have dark secrets and things they would rather keep hidden, just like everyone else. Here are 15 of the most scandalous…
15. No Education Past the Eighth Grade
Education in the Amish culture is stopped intentionally at the eighth grade. Well known for their approach to schooling, most Amish children attend class in one or two-room schools. The reason behind the limited formal education is practicality (they need the older children to become farmers and craftsman, so they teach them those trades instead), and religious objections (they feel that higher education may teach ideas that negate their Christian values). They see little value in traditional education, although some Amish do continue schooling after the eighth grade in the form of supplemental courses (especially businessmen), seminars, apprenticeships, and correspondence courses. One main objection from mainstream society about the lack of higher education for these children is that it leaves them with essentially no life skills and only an eighth grade education, should they ever decide to leave the Amish community. With no knowledge of the outside world, they basically have no choice but to stay.
14. The Choice
Building upon that idea of it being so difficult for the younger Amish to leave or even choose another life for themselves, they are supposedly given 24 hours in which to spend in modern-day culture. During this time, they are to decide whether they want to leave the Amish community, or stay in it. For 90% of Amish youth, it is really no choice, at all; if they leave, they will never be welcomed back, nor will they ever have communication with their families again. It is very harsh, and on top of that, they lack education, knowledge of modern society, job experience, money, or familial support. But some do choose the path of leaving. Of the ones that have, a few have been interviewed and seem happy with their choice, even though it was hard. One woman, Mary, got her driver’s license and was given a car by a friend, which she paid back with her $8.00 an hour job cleaning at a hospital. Still, for her, anything would be better than the Amish life she hated.
13. The Puppy Mills
The Amish community own 20% of America’s puppy mills. Annually, around five million dogs are killed in puppy mills, which equates to 11,000 per day. They are kept in horrible conditions, and some kept in cages their entire lives, especially if they are used for breeding purposes. They can be stacked up to 10 cages high, so that the ones in the bottom row have a 90% chance of developing an eye or ear infection. When the puppies can no longer be bred or be sold as puppies, they are mass murdered. Sometimes they are “debarked” by having a steel pipe shoved down their throat. They do this so they can keep more dogs without anyone knowing just how many puppies they have, which can be hundreds. Since the Amish consider these puppies livestock, they are able to get away with these torturous acts without breaking any laws. And all this is just the beginning of the horrors that can take place in Amish puppy mills. The puppy mill capital of the U.S. is considered Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, a place where puppy mills- and the land- is largely dominated by the Amish.
One Amish dating custom is called bundling (or “bed courtship”), which is essentially sleeping in the same bed with someone while fully clothed. But there is more to it than that. It is thought to have originated in the Netherlands or the British Isles, and later became a common practice in Colonial America, especially in Pennsylvania Dutch Country. Courtship for the Amish generally begins at the age of 16 for boys, and 14-15 for girls. Condoned in the Old Testament in the Book of Ruth, bundling is the practice of a young couple being bound in two separate blankets and laying together on a bed. This is done for intimacy purposes but that does not involve sexual contact. Though this is not the norm anymore, it can still be found in Pennsylvania Amish communities. Bundling beds, as they are called, can also still be found. These beds have a board in the middle to prevent touching.
Shunning is no huge shock, as most people who know anything about the Amish know that they still use this awful punishment. In fact, the character of Leanne on Orange is the New Black was an Amish girl before she was arrested, and she was shunned by her community, so that episode made people even more aware of it. Called meidung by the Amish, shunning is their form of excommunication, inflicted for “crimes” like marrying outside the faith or choosing to leave the community and live a modern life. You may remember Kate Stoltzfus from the TLC show Breaking Amish. She left her community behind and was recently featured in a Maxim photoshoot spread.
When a person is shunned, all ties are cut from the community, and that includes their family and friends. It is the most serious punishment one can receive, and lasts until death, or until the perpetrator repents in front of everyone. It is disturbing that a whole community can simply flip a switch and turn their backs on someone they have known their whole lives, and even more disturbing is that a mother, father, or sibling could do the same.
10. Graves Dug by Hand
When an Amish person dies, the funeral is held in the home of the deceased. Coffins are simple and plain, and are hand-made by the community. They dig the graves by hand because their belief is that modern technology is an interference, so they do not use machinery or electricity. Various community members pitch in to prepare for burial, which takes place three days after death because historically it took three days to dig the grave. Some community members prepare the body, some build the coffin, some sit with the body while the grave is being dug, some actually dig the grave by hand, and some prepare a meal for after the funeral. The body is not embalmed unless it is state law. The service focuses wholly on the concept of Christian resurrection, as the Amish believe that upon death, the spirit has left the physical body, therefore their intent is on praising God. There are no eulogies.
9. Beard and Hair-Cutting Attacks
If you want to hurt or piss off an Amish person, apparently all you need is a pair of scissors. It is a rule among the Amish that women do not cut their hair, and men do not cut their beards. So to cut another person’s hair is one of the most serious offenses you can commit. Even to cut one’s own hair or beard is punishable by shunning and shame. To cut the hair or beard of someone else is considered a hate crime and is severely punishable. Interestingly, mustaches are not allowed but beards are essentially required, since beards were commonplace in the Bible. However, men may shave or cut their beards until they are married, at which time they must stop. One example of a person committing a haircut/beard-cut crime in recent years is the case of Samuel Mullet (in the first of the mugshots above), who got 15 of his followers to attack other Amish communities in this way. They were found guilty of cutting the hair and beards of rivals in their community. Convicted of religious hate crimes and conspiracy, Mullet is serving 11 years in a federal prison in Texas, while the others received various lighter sentences, and many are back home already.
Amish people may be simple farmers, but they release an alarming amount of fertilizer as runoff into the Chesapeake Bay. Collectively, they own 5,000 farms in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, where the streams carry the fertilizer and manure to the bay. A professor at Elizabethtown College and a studier of the Amish, Donald Kraybill, says, “They are very resistant to government interference, and they object to government subsidies.” So they have not been very receptive to the efforts of the Environmental Protection Agency, which has suggested improvements to individual farmers. But the farmers take it as an insult. They reject anything from the EPA, therefore continuing to help create “dead zones” in the bay, which are places where the oxygen levels are too low to support life. Their farming practices are rooted in the less environmentally safe ways of the past; cows are allowed to wade into streams and defecate in the water, the placement of the farming fields works against proper drainage, and manure is utilized when holding tanks are full. And according to an article on pennlive.com, “What matters is the work. A plain-sect farmer isn’t interested in much of anything unless it works for him – and his farm.” Sadly, it certainly seems that way.
There are roughly 250,000 Amish living in America right now, descended from just 200 founders in the 18th century. They have a higher-than-average rate of genetic disorders, then, because of inbreeding. They have a high infant mortality rate, as well, but they simply view these things as God’s Will, or “Gottes Wille”. Before marrying, the Amish refuse to take any genetic tests to determine if they are somehow, even distantly, related, and thus when they have children, it is a toss-up if they will be born with deformities or a genetic disorder. Seems to me that a simple blood test could help avoid a whole lot of heartache, for both them and their future children. But then, that would require a heart, and after learning about puppy mills, pollution, shunning, and everything else (and there is more to come), I am unsure if heartache is in the realm of possibility for them.
6. Animal Cruelty
Sadly, it is not just the puppy mills that are an issue. The Amish are known for being abusive toward many other animals, as well. We’ll start with the horses, whom the Amish view as farm equipment and not living creatures. Their buggy horses are often underweight, lame, or scarred from ill-fitting saddles. They are tethered and left standing all day long, expected to then trot home in the fading light. When they grow too old or tired, they are slaughtered. Moving on to cows, they have Holsteins that have udders so swollen, they drag on the ground between their legs. And back to the dogs, they kill healthy ones instead of paying to give them medical care when needed. And the list goes on. Some people say that the measure of a man is how he treats his animals, and by that standard, these people are among the smallest of men, especially when all else is considered.
5. A Clear Patriarchy
The Amish community is a clear patriarchy, and gender roles are never questioned. They take literal instructions from the Bible. For example: “The head of every man is Christ, and the head of every woman is man” (Corinthians 11:3); “Submit yourself unto your husband as unto the Lord” (Ephesians 5:22); and “A woman should learn in quietness and full submission” (I Timothy 2:11). Girls are not given sex education, and many are the victims of rape and incest at the hands of their elders, including family members. The problem is so bad, in fact, that in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, which is arguably the place in America with the highest population of Amish, communities outside of the Amish post information and hand out brochures for young women to let them know how to get help. Some young Amish women do not even know they are being abused, because that is all they have ever known or been taught.
Amish Rumspringa (literally translated to “running around”) is the time when Amish youth (boys more than girls) are under less control of their parents, but have not yet been baptized, and thus experience a greater level of freedom. Some choose to experiment with modern behaviors, such as driving, going to a movie, wearing non-traditional clothing, or even buying a television. While Rumspringa varies from community to community, some (if not many) of the Amish youth use it as an excuse to experiment with drugs, alcohol, and sex. They even take selfies of it all! They do use Facebook, to socialize with other Amish kids mostly, and most use smartphones, which has made all of the above easier. So why is all of this a “dark” fact about Amish life? Well if you look at the big picture, kids going out like this, generally at the ages of 14-16, not only have the same risks as non-Amish kids do, but are in even more danger due to their naivety. One anonymous non-Amish teen explained that, “The Amish parties are much crazier because those kids don’t know anything about safe sex, or drinking. They go nuts. Plus, they have a lot more living to make up for, it seems like.”
3. Drunk (Buggy) Driving
It may make you smirk, but this is an actual thing. And it happens more than you’d think within the Amish communities. Here are a few stories about Amish “drinking and driving” that will make you raise your brow. In the summer of 2010, an Amish teen was caught drinking, and charged with possession of alcohol, failure to stop at a stop sign, failure to yield to an emergency vehicle, and overdriving an animal. Levi Detweiler, 17, started a horse-and-buggy chase with the cops which only lasted about a mile before he made a sharp turn and wound up in a ditch (I feel bad for the horse!). He fled the scene but was of course found quickly. Four days earlier, four 18-year-olds were arrested for underage drinking and littering, as they were throwing empty beer cans from their buggy. The year before, a man fell asleep at the reins of his buggy due to intoxication. His horse was wandering in the middle of the road, and the man was charged with a DUI. Like bicycles, buggies share the road with cars and all types of transportation need to abide by safety laws. It may sound funny to drink and (buggy) drive, but clearly a buggy-driver does not even need another car on the road to be dangerous.
2. Crime Cover-Ups
Clearly, the Amish reject the outside world and that is one reason getting them to abide by the laws we all follow, such as animal treatment laws, can be so difficult. They simply do not recognize them and they somehow get away with it. The Amish are left to dole out punishments and carry out their own kind of legal system for the most part, and often, things are covered up. Obviously, rape and incest are two of those things. But they have even covered up murder. In a society where the perpetrator can confess, repent, and be forgiven, but the victim becomes the villain, this is not surprising. They go as far as to forbid reporting crimes to authorities, too. One man who left the community, David Yoder, said that his sister confessed to the murder of his niece, and the response she got from the community “authorities”, was, “This can never leave this room. It has to remain this way for the betterment of the community.” Another man. Chris Mullet, was charged with the rape of a young girl and went to a (real) trial. His family said they just wanted him home because, “If you ask for forgiveness and they show us they’re sorry, we don’t think about it. If it happens today, tomorrow it’s forgotten.”
1. They Hate America But Love Mexico
The Amish may have a bad taste in their mouths for everything modern in America, but their palate loves Mexico, especially the food there. This strange tidbit of information got me curious as to why, exactly, that would be. There are a few reasons. First, many Amish went to Mexico over a century ago, lured by large plots of land and no military draft, and ended up incorporating tortillas and salsa into their own dishes. But now for the juicier reason: more recently, Amish have been going down to Mexico for major surgical procedures like hip replacements. They do not have health insurance here in America, and so one of the only cost-effective ways to get medical care is by going south of the border. And naturally, while there, they feast on the traditional Mexican cuisine. Now, they have developed a taste for it. Interesting, but also kind of shady that these holier-than-thou folks go to a third-world country for surgery. Weird.