Saturday, December 13, 2008

Amish Civil Disobedience Leads to Drugs, Polygamy and Murder?

When does religion exempt you from secular law? The Amish apparently think they're exempt from building codes:
Attorneys acting on behalf of the Amish argue they have a constitutional right to religious freedom. They don't have to conform to building regulations that require them to use architectural drawings, smoke detectors, quality-graded lumber and inspections, Steve Ballan, an assistant public defender assigned to the Amish in Morristown wrote in court documents. "They should be allowed to practice their religion and their religious traditions without interference from the government," he said in an interview.
On the one hand, I do empathize somewhat with the Amish – I think their beliefs are misguided, but they're sincere and honest, and I respect that.

But where does it end? If you make this exception, how can you refuse the next group of religious fanatics?
  • Should we allow hallucinogens for anyone who claims them as part of their religion?
  • Should parents be allowed to withhold lifesaving medical treatment for their young children?
  • Should we allow polygamy?
  • Should we allow 60 year old men to "marry" 12 year old girls?
  • Should we allow human sacrifice?
  • Should we allow mass suicide?
It's the classic "slippery slope." Once you decide that the Amish are exempt from the rule of law, you can't make any rational argument to ban any of the other activities in the list above. And these aren't hypothetical, as we all know!

We're either a nation of laws, or we're not.


  1. The "classic slippery slope" is a classic fallacy. Issues should be decided individually on their merits, not some bogus prediction of what might happen in unrelated issues.

  2. The "slippery slope" is not a fallacy at all. It's the stuff bad law is made of. I have no problem at all if society passes a law exempting certain groups from building codes, so long as that law is clear, fair, and non-discriminatory. But you can't arbitrarily let one group of people violate the law. Either it's the law, and we all have to obey it, or there is no reason for anybody to obey any law.

    The "slipper slope" is not a fallacy. It is part of the foundation of our legal system. Legal scholars know that the average person must understand the law, believe it is fair, and most important, believe it will be applied equally to all.

  3. Just because the slippery slope argument is used widely does not mean it is not a fallacy. The fact that the slippery slope argument can be used to justify anything from alcohol prohibition to banning criticism (first you disagree, then you argue then you fight - it's a slippery slope) demonstrates that it is a logical fallacy.

    As for what we should allow:

    Hallucinogens - Hell yes.

    Withhold medical treatment from kids - yes but then try them for manslaughter. Darwinism with legal liability.

    Polygamy - put it under study.

    12 year old marriages - consent requires full cognitive maturation. So no.

    Human sacrifices - consensual only and proof of competency of the sacrifice-ee is the burden of the sacrifice-er. Darwinism with liability.

    Mass suicide - not something people really need permission for.

  4. SO Baron - While I agree with you on each of the specific points, I think you missed the point. You're arguing about what should be legal and illegal. I'm arguing that whatever society agrees on and embodies as the law of the land, we are all bound by that law. The "slippery slope" isn't about whether to allow polygamy or hallucinogens. You start sliding down the slope to anarchy when you argue that one group should be exempt from the law, while others must obey it. It has nothing to do with which law, or whether it's a good law. The law is the law, and either we obey it, change it, or violate it and accept the fine or imprisonment.

  5. First, you're simply wrong: there is a slippery slope fallacy; look it up. You should be questioning whether it applies, which is a different issue.

    Second, we have a Constitution which keeps the state's nose out of religion, which I think is a good thing, and you should too, because it enables you to post here. That's "law", which you seem to want to apply selectively, yourself, more than I do.

    So why not cast aside your knee-jerk anti-religion, and examine the issues on their merits, instead of resorting to basic non-thinking authoritarianism as an excuse? For someone who seems opposed to religious fundamentalism, you wear yours on your sleeve.

  6. I want to repeat it, to make sure you get it: atheism is religion, pure and simple. There's virtually no basic difference between it and any other religion. As near as I can see, this website is as much a proponent of a fundamentalist religious view as anything you criticize.

  7. Calling Atheism a religion is like calling bald a hair color. - Don Hirschberg.

    Religion is a belief, atheism is just relizing that so-called where written 2000 years ago by men who thought the Earth was flat and the sun revolved around the Earth.

  8. I have no problem at all if society passes a law exempting certain groups from building codes, so long as that law is clear, fair, and non-discriminatory.

    Isn’t the very act of exempting certain groups from building codes discriminatory?

    There should be no religious exemptions in law, at all. Any particular activity under consideration should either be allowed to all or denied to all. Either the activity in question is harmful and should be banned for everyone, or it isn’t and should be allowed for everyone. In regards to the Amish and building codes, it would be better to exempt, say, a certain style of barn on agriculturally zoned property from building codes, than to exempt the Amish themselves from building codes.

  9. Eric, you said it more concisely than I did. It's not certain groups that should be addressed by the law, but rather certain conditions or skills. For example, a licensed architect is allowed to approve a design that otherwise doesn't meet building code, but only because it's recognized that s/he has special skills.

  10. Atheism is a religion? Dang...I quit.

    I'm going to be an non-believing, non-non believer...

  11. Hi Craig, what laws do you speak of? Not the Law of The Land, surely? You are mistaking statute & act obligations for laws. The Law of the Land is Common Law, statute & acts are merely legislation to make money for private corporations. All statutes & acts require your consent for them to apply to you. The 'Consent of the governed,' actually. It's all about the contracts you have, or don't have with the government. Amish people are Freemen on the Land. They are not corporate slaves like most of us. Anyone who uses fraud and/or violence to gain anothers consent is evil. Man cannot give another man rights, for we all equal! Clearly the laywer they have has a loyality to the Bar & Law association, not to their clients, otherwise he would have put a Claim of Right with permanant estoppel that will stop all governtment, local or otherwise, in their tracks. Merry Christmas!


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