This is a timely topic now for me because The Amish Cook’s house just experienced a serious fire. The smoke alarm upstairs likely saved their home and maybe some lives. Lovina was in the kitchen downstairs when they heard a smoke alarm going off upstairs. The fire department said if they had arrived only 3 minutes later, the house would have been gone. So one can conjecture the horrible scenarios that might have occurred had Lovina not had smoke alarms. And she had to have them as part of their home being approved by local building inspectors. Needless to say, Lovina is a fan of smoke detectors. Her Old Order Amish community does not object to them and compliantly comply with the local regulations. Not all Amish do, however,. So the issue is: should a private home be required to have smoke detectors?
The BBC ran an article over the weekend about the issue and how it is playing out among a Swartzentruber Amish sect in Upstate New York. To me, it’s a tough issue. Are smoke detectors a good idea? YES!! Should they be required in any public place: YES! But a private home where one’s religious convictions preach against such devices? What do you think?
The BBC piece is compelling. There were some items in the article, though, that I thought seemed to stretch belief. Are Amish children really barred by their parents from entering Canton, New York, the nearest town to their settlement? That seemed a little silly because you doubt an Amish child – or any child – would be going into town alone anyway. But traveling with their parents would seem to be acceptable, at least in the Swartzentruber communities I have visited. And are they really walking around barefoot when it is 5 degrees outside> Karen Johnson-Weiner responded to a request from me via the Swartzentruber’s defense attorney, Steve Ballan, to clarify. Here is what she said:
Parents tend not to take children with them on trips or into town. Basically, kids travel with their parents only when they’re very young–or in the young folk. They are in no way barred–there’s just not any reason for them to leave home and go to town. Kids don’t sleep on hard pallets–they have mattresses. And they would not be barefoot at 5 degrees F.
Another issue in the article is about having a central milk dump station so the Amish can avoid contact with a truck driver. Again, not completely accurate, that would just be one of a variety of reasons. This is what Johnson-Weiner writes in her excellent book, New York Amish.
More philosophically, a Swartzentruber bishop, acknowledging that the dumping stations were a sharp departure from past practice, put the change in Amish perspective. It would, he noted, make it possible for young men to keep farming, helping to ensure that life in the community would remain agriculturally based. With a more secure income, there would be less need for farmers to hire out to do carpentry or other work outside the community. Finally, he argued, building dumping stations was really “a step backwards,” a move away from the modern world. As he pointed out, because milk truck drivers would no longer go to individual Amish farms to pick up cans of milk, the dumping stations would make the non-Amish world less intrusive in the daily life of the Swartzentruber settlement; farmers would deliver their cans of milk to the dumping station by horse-drawn wagon.