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Michigan Amish Farmer Harassed By US Government for Cattle

February 19, 2010

Is the government impinging on religious freedom by forcing Amish farmers to tag their cows electronically, or is the Amish religious order acting out its own form of fanaticism by refusing to participate in American politics but making use of the result: freedom to live as they choose without having to fight for it?

But now the Amish are fighting for what they believe is religious freedom, but it’s over the state of their dairy cows:

BLANCHARD, Mich. – It’s not like Glen Mast to be confrontational or to draw attention to himself. He is Old Order Amish and is happy to tend his 35-acre farm, build furniture for his children and repair horse-drawn buggies for the Amish in his rural central Michigan community.

“I just want to be left alone,” Mast says.

So it is extraordinary that Mast is a plaintiff in a federal lawsuit filed this month seeking to stop the government from tagging the ears of cattle with computer chips, chips that Mast and others say violate their religious freedom and may represent the biblical “mark of the beast,” condemning those who comply to eternal damnation.

In Michigan and other states, the insular, Old World ways of the Amish are clashing with the technology-driven New World desire to track the movement of livestock in hopes of assuring the safety of the food chain from mad cow disease, pseudo rabies, tuberculosis and other maladies. Some Amish are selling their cattle rather than comply with the regulation. Some are refusing to register their farms with a government-run national database. And some are moving to other states, where enforcement of the federal regulation is not as rigorous.

“It’s like we’re being sucked into the modern world,” said Robert Alexander, an Amish plaintiff in the suit who has put his 86-acre farm near the village of Coral up for sale and will move to Minnesota. The livestock tagging requirement is not the sole reason for his move, Alexander said, but it is a factor.

Apart from modern world Historically, the Amish have quietly but fiercely fought for their separate and isolated status, winning, for instance, exemption from the military draft. They do not participate in Social Security, nor do they vote or run for political office. There are nearly a quarter-million Amish in the U.S., according to a recent study, and they are rapidly expanding their presence in rural areas of Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois and Missouri, where their numbers have at least doubled since 1992.

People in here in Michigan tend to treat the Amish with tolerance and develop friendships, even while those immersed in society and paying social security and all the rest believe the Amish’s ability to live as they do rests solely on the idea of complacency with the fact that the US government fights for this type of freedom.  And while there are Amish farm stands all over rural Michigan, and Amish settlements growing, there is no large sphere of discontent among Michiganders about the presence of the Amish or their old-world ways.

Things like the Amish newspaper that threatened to go on-line was quickly shut down, as this violates the Amish belief that technology is an evil influence.  But apparently tagging cattle is an evil influence too, and some Amish have taken to selling their herds rather than comply with a governmental mandate to tag cattle:

In the decidedly small world of the Amish, though, the program is an incursion into their privacy and, for many, a violation of their religious freedom. Peter Zook, who farms in the northwestern Michigan community of Manton, sold his 30 head of dairy cattle last year rather than tag his small herd.

“Don’t misunderstand — I’m not against the government, but it would be against the teachings of the Bible to do this,” Zook said. “I don’t want any part of it because those who partake of it would not be part of the Kingdom of God.”

Many Amish interpret the New Testament book of Revelation as a warning that acceptance of technology—in this case the chips and the computers into which the information would be stored—amounts to worship of the Satan-possessed Antichrist. To many, the computer is the beast that will control their lives. There are disputes among the Amish about that interpretation, Alexander said, but there is broad agreement that embracing technology as a means to sell cattle is not in keeping with the teachings of the Bible.

The Amish genuinely believe that tagging cattle would disallow entrance to Heaven, and in choosing to comply with governmental regulations or not going to heaven, the Amish are routinely choosing their religious beliefs over governmental ones.

I have to say that the US Government’s moves to push forward a standard practice for the small farmers are completely misguided and harmful.  It’s the small farmers who compete with mammoth giants like Tyson foods and large-scale animal processing plants, and if you have ever lived by a commercial chicken farm, you will understand why so many people are pushing to get more small farmers on the landscape.

The Amish say they want to be left alone, and the government says that no one can be exempt from public health issues:

How the dispute works itself out is anyone’s guess. Wayne Wood, a dairy farmer and president of the Michigan Farm Bureau and a supporter of the cattle tagging law, said he sees no way the Amish could be exempted, despite their religious beliefs.

“I recognize that this could be a private property issue, but we have found that [tuberculosis] does not discriminate where it hits,” Wood said.

The choice, Alexander said, has divided the Amish, who will have to decide whether to comply with the law, get out of the cattle business, or move to another state or country. Moving is part of the Amish legacy. As families grow, land can become scarce. That’s a big reason the Amish are branching beyond their American ancestral homes of Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana. Land is cheaper and more available elsewhere.

The cattle-tagging law will, for some, add another incentive to move on. But Glen Mast says moving is not a long-term solution.

“The problem is, where do you go? Sooner or later, you’re going to see this at the other end. And then what happens when they start tagging horses?” Mast said, shaking his head over a predicament he said scares him.

“This frightens me. They want to make us look like a violator,” Mast said, adding, “I just want to be left alone.”

Is Mast just naive about the human health risk unmarked cattle create, or is the government focusing on the small players in the farm industry instead of tackling mass-producers in the commercial animal trade.? Mast is scared and wants to be left alone.  Is that too much to ask?  According to the government, it just might be.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. AnduinX permalink
    July 6, 2010 1:32 pm

    This isn’t an infringement on religion, this is an infringement in general. The government has no right to demand farmers tag their farm animals. I don’t think any farmer should comply with this bullshit.

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