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The United States are in the middle of another election cycle with much rhetoric and positioning as each party and their respective candidates stake their claim and ask for the votes of the people. In the news cycle there has even been some discussion about the candidates reaching out to the Amish people. Many visitors to this community ask about the Amish position and who they may vote for. In addition to the question of political involvement, we are also often asked whether the Amish pay taxes, or receive welfare benefits. In order to understand the Amish position on this issue we must go back into history and understand the world in which the Amish worldview developed.
The world in which the forerunners of the Amish, the Anabaptists, began, was a world that did not have any sense of the separation of church and state. To be a citizen of a territory meant that one was a member of the state church of that particular territory and vise-versa. The Anabaptists called for the freedom for adults to voluntarily choose the way of Christ and to represent that choice by an adult baptism, which stood opposed to the infant baptism of both the Roman Catholic Church and the developing Lutheran and Reformed churches.
This perspective led to a clear division of church and state, and most of the mainline Anabaptists argued that in order for this to work they should not engage in the world of the politics and the political order of the day. As expected this upset the social and political structure of the world in which the Anabaptist began. This viewpoint led to a great deal of controversy and eventually is what led to the animosity against these people.
At the same time, they were often careful to urge their people that they must do all they could to live well within the structure that their respective governments organized. So one should obey any and all laws that did not violate their faith and conscience, and one should pay any taxes required.
This is the viewpoint of many, if not most of the Amish and some of the Mennonites in our world today. They will sometimes vote on local issues, but by and large they do not engage in voting or holding office on any national or even state level. Their mandate, they believe, is to pray for and respect the political system, yet not engage in any way that promotes one or the other party.
They also pay income, property, and most of the other taxes that citizens are expected to pay. Many are social security exempt and therefore do not pay that tax, but then they do not receive social security benefits, or government aid in any form. Since they do not own automobiles they do not pay road taxes that derive from license fees. Many of the Amish churches in Ohio voluntarily collect a "buggy fee" that they give to the state for infrastructure and road repair with the understanding that those fees will be used in the Amish areas. In this way they give more than has been expected of them.
The Amish view of interaction with the government is deeply touched by nearly five hundred years of history. If you would like to know more about this perspective, or the place of the Amish in history, plan a visit the Amish & Mennonite Heritage Center. The Center offers guided tours of "Behalt" - a 10 ft. x 265 ft. cyclorama oil-on-canvas painting that illustrates the heritage of the Amish and Mennonite people from their Anabaptist beginnings in Zurich, Switzerland, to the present day. Behalt means "to keep" or "remember." The Center is open Mon-Sat 9:00-5:00 and is located near Berlin, OH at 5798 County Road 77, Millersburg, OH 44654. Please call (330) 893-3192 for more information or to schedule a group tour.
Marcus Yoder was born to an Amish family in the heart of Amish Country. His family later moved to the Mennonite church where Marcus takes an active role in preaching, teaching, and writing. He is the Executive Director of the Amish & Mennonite Heritage Center. In his thirties he decided to return to school and has a BA in history from The Ohio State University and a MA from Yale. He enjoys reading and writing and spending time with his wife, Norita.