Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Sequel: The Shunning at the Rocky Top Salvage Store

Those readers who have been following the blog for several months may remember the posts on November 6 and 11 about the battle at the Rocky Top Salvage Store in Kentucky.

To recap: Ruth Irene Garrett, a former Amish woman from Iowa, and Erma Yoder, a member of the Swartzendruber Amish, who runs the Rocky Top Salvage Store in the Glasgow, Kentucky area, are in a dispute about Yoder's refusal to sell groceries to Garrett. Garrett has become semi-famous with books about her life as an Amish woman and the way she was treated when she left the Amish to marry a divorced man who made his living chauffering Amish people. The Swartzendruber Amish, who will shun almost anyone, including themselves, put Garrett in the "ban" even though Garrett had never been a member of the Swartzendruber Amish, one of the most conservative of the various Old Order Amish groups. Being in the "ban" meant that Garrett could have no commercial or social interaction with members of the Swartzendruber Amish. When Garrett tried to buy goods at the Rocky Top Salvage Store, Yoder refused to sell to her. Although it would not have been forbidden for Yoder's children to sell to Garrett since they were not yet church members, or for Garrett's husband to buy the goods, since he had never been Amish, both women were too stubborn to compromise.

Garrett filed a complaint with the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights. Kentucky, like most states, has a statute forbidding discrimination on the basis of religion in commercial transactions.

Now the latest: Garrett has sent me an email stating that the Commission on Human Rights has ruled in her favor. She said that since she did not ask for money damages, she was awarded $100, with a suggestion that she use the money to buy groceries at the Rocky Top Salvage Store. I asked her for a copy of the decision, but haven't gotten it yet.

As I've stated before, this case raises interesting questions to which there are no easy answers. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees the right to practice our religion freely without interference from the government. If our religion requires us to discriminate, should the government interfere? On the other hand, if a store open to the public can refuse to sell to an ex-Amish person, what's to prevent a rabid right wing Southern Baptist from refusing to sell to a Muslim? Or a Muslim from refusing to sell to a Jew? Does society's interest in having a religiously pluralistic society mean that the constitutional right to freely practice our religion should be limited?

I have no easy answers, but like several of my readers previously, I lean towards requiring anyone with a store open to the public to do business without discriminating on the basis of religion. If Erma thinks selling to sinners will cause her to go to hell, then maybe she should go back to subsistence farming instead of running a commercial enterprise.

I never cease to be amazed at the battles people will fight in the name of religion, which is supposed to help people get along in this life and the next.


Debra Hope said...
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Debra Hope said...

Hmmmmm . . . my years at Seyfarth lead me to believe the Kentucky HRC people took this all with a rather large grain of salt, given their suggestion that Ruth spend her $100 at Emma's store.

I still suspect Ruth shopped at the store just to "schpite" Emma and then used the ensuing publicity to promote her new book -- recall Chicago Trib picture of Ruth in front of said store, new book prominently in hand? Anyway, we all know how devious middle-aged Amish women can be!

Patry Francis said...

Your last paragraph is so profound and so true. I wonder frequently why peace among believers remains so elusive.

rdl said...

"I lean towards requiring anyone with a store open to the public to do business without discriminating on the basis of religion" (or color, etc)- hear hear, I'm with you on this one!