Running head: IMPACTS OF OPPRESSION TOWARD THE AMISH 1
A Theoretical Analysis of Rural Sociology: Understanding the Dynamics and Social
Structure of Amish Oppression and Social Relations with Non-Amish
Case Western Reserve University: The Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences
IMPACTS OF OPPRESSION TOWARD THE AMISH 2
The aim of this literature review was to build on the seldom-researched population of the
Amish. This research focuses on the Amish using an ecological lens, viewing this
population as a complex and multifaceted group; it details specific instances of historical
oppression as well as behavior and perceived oppression among Amish and non-Amish
communities. Specifically, the goal of this piece was to apply social learning theory,
micro aggression theory, and social distance theory in order to conceptualize Amish
culture and the relationships they have with non-Amish. Social work concepts like
respect and dignity for others, cultural sensitivity, and competency in practice and
research are referenced for further insight the field of mental health. These three areas:
historical context, research implications of Amish oppression, and principles for social
work practice may help aid further research and educational endeavors for those who
wish to focus on the community of the Amish.
IMPACTS OF OPPRESSION TOWARD THE AMISH 3
A Theoretical Analysis of Rural Sociology: Understanding the Dynamics and Social
Structure of Amish Oppression and Social Relations with Non-Amish
Background Information on the Amish
The word “Amish” is an umbrella term that refers to several microcultural groups
associated with having distinct Anabaptist religions and German ethnic roots. The Amish
have created their own place in society away from dominant culture; they live in dense
and isolated communities that help sustain their survival. In this sense, a “microculture”,
or similarly, a “subculture” is used to describe the enormity of Amish who share the same
austere values, beliefs, traditions, religion, philosophy, law, social norms, and education.
The term “Amish” refers to several subcategories of religious Anabaptist sects that have
diversified into groups based off of intricate beliefs on technology, reproduction, religion,
and work. The Swartzentruber Amish are the most conservative, a division primarily
located in Holmes County, Ohio. There is also The Old Order Amish, who are described
by traditional horse-and-buggy; they are the most in media and historical contexts
(Holmes & Block, 2013). Additionally, there are more liberal subgroups such as the
“Beachy” Amish Mennonites who are identified by a lack of traditional horse
transportation, an inclusion of internet, and a lack of the preservation of German
language. Currently, there are fewer in-home religious worshiping and there appears to be
an increase in the amount of Mennonites who take jobs outside of traditional farms, who
drive modern cars, and who use modern day technology like cell phones (Holmes et al.,
IMPACTS OF OPPRESSION TOWARD THE AMISH 4
The Amish are known to live in rural farm towns and isolated pockets surrounded
by farm country. These communities have a general distaste in pride, putting an emphasis
on communal humility, because all of their work and religious efforts are brought forth as
a community; they pay respect to God as their higher authority (Reiling, 2002).
Additionally, community well being trumps individual roles in the Amish way of life,
evidenced by a strength in hard discipline, work ethic, and trust toward each other to get
activities and tasks completed (Reiling, 2002). Additionally, the Amish speak a dialect of
German called Pennsylvanian Dutch, used in informal settings, and “high German” when
speaking in church services in the home.
According to The Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies (Kraybill,
Nolt, & Johnson-Weiner, 2014), the estimated and up to date population of the Amish is
approximately 300,000 as of 2015. The population of these communities is updated every
year in July due to constant migration and increased incidents of births and death.
Furthermore, from 2014 to 2015, the Amish have experienced a population growth
increase by 3.4 percent, about 9,900 born in one year, overall.
The Origins and Past Oppression of the Amish
There are several subgroups that have branched from the traditional roots of
Amish religion. Due to the extensive complexities of each sect, this paper will focus on
the groups as a general whole called “Amish”. The roots of the Amish began in 1525
with a cluster of religious malcontents in Zurich, Switzerland who disagreed with the
insurgence of the Protestant Reformation (Nolt, 1992). They believed in baptizing adults
once they were old enough to decide their religious choice. Due to these beliefs, the
IMPACTS OF OPPRESSION TOWARD THE AMISH 5
group became known as Anabaptists; they believed in a majorly different viewpoint in
religion, specifically Christianity. Because of the negative reactions from an
overwhelming majority of angry traditional Christians, the groups soon fled from
religious persecution (Donnermeyer & Fiedrich, 2006). According to Donnermeyer and
Fiedrich (2006), many of them hid in caves and woods in order to escape religious
intolerance and to worship in secrecy. When found, most of the leaders were put to death,
however, the movement had continued throughout the years, gaining attraction from
other citizens. Amish were known to exercise pacifism such as refusing to serve in the
military and fighting back from violence; this caused German and Swiss leaders to
become angry about their inclusion into society (Holmes et al., 2013). The negative
treatment toward these communities helped shape the Amish we see today. The Amish
have grown from violent and discriminatory pasts and as a result, have created the
traditions we see today. Some of these traditions include worship in homes and taking
turns hosting guests. Another aspect of Amish culture created from these past religious
intolerances was the need to become autonomous and isolated. Specifically, Amish were
raised to live out of touch from outside religious authority and to share a community.
This concept was based off of non-resistance and non-violence from their past.
Additionally, working the land and using farming as a vocation conveys independence,
self-sufficiency, and respect toward God. These ethnic and cultural aspects are vital to the
structure and foundations of Amish religion (Nolt, 1992). Therefore, when non-Amish
folk demean, hurt, invalidate, discriminate, and oppress these rural and agrarian folk, it is
an attack on their well-being and lifestyle. At the roots of the Amish religion, it is
IMPACTS OF OPPRESSION TOWARD THE AMISH 6
apparent this group suffered quite a bit of religious intolerance as well as oppression by
the majority from the very beginning.
As diversification ensued among the Anabaptist members due to an increase in
size, new philosophy began to adapt to new and progressive movements. Menno Simons,
a Catholic priest who was an influential founder, formed the Mennonites. Additionally,
Jacob Ammann formed what is known today as traditional “Amish” due to unsettled
differences in religious rights and practices (Donnermeyer et al., 2006). When religious
persecution peaked again in the 18th century, many Amish fled to the United States
seeking religious freedom. Many Amish settlements began to develop in Ohio, Indiana,
and Pennsylvania between 1730 and 1770 (Hostetler, 1993).
Societal Attitudes Toward the Amish: Oppressive Micro Aggressions
The Amish can be described as an overlooked and mysterious minority in modern
day society. It is a traditionally religious and ethnic community forged through
oppression. Nowadays, these communities lead autonomous and self-sufficient lifestyles
that adhere to their strict moral and ethical codes of behavior. According to Moellendorf,
Warsh, and Yoshimaru (1997), “outsiders”, or non-Amish folk may see the Amish as
idyllic or free from constraints and pressure from the modern world. However, the life of
many Amish citizens are time consuming, strict, and stressful. This misinterpretation may
create a sense of bias and discrimination in the communication and treatment toward
Amish folk, labeling them as slackers, lazy, or “old-fashioned”. These types of micro
aggressions and attitudes placed on these communities are demeaning and condescending
IMPACTS OF OPPRESSION TOWARD THE AMISH 7
in the least and perpetuate a sense of misunderstanding; it creates a “they” and “them”
mentality when considering differences in culture and religion.
In a study conducted by McGuigan and Scholl (2007) the effects of attitudinal
bias toward the Amish were measured. The authors created and implemented an Attitudes
Toward Amish (A.T.A) scale in order to measure biases and attitudes toward the Amish
population. The study collected responses from 100 non-Amish people for their sample.
The responses varied from “I would like having an Amish family for neighbors” to “The
Amish have an offensive odor about them.” The responses were measured on a likert
scale and then analyzed for a possible range of 0 to 20 points, as well as behavioral
subscales to catch bias and oppressive ideology. Additionally, the Social Dominance
Orientation (SDO), a scale used to measure a person’s preference for the construct of
inequality between two societal groups was implemented (Pratto, Sidanius, Stallworth, &
Malle, 1994). This scale helped study the effects of social distance, alienation, bias, and
prejudice toward ethnic communities. Overall, the study reported non-Amish adults who
had a stronger degree of contact with the Amish had a more positive regard and healthier
relationship, resulting in less bias. On the other hand, casual or superficial relationships
with the Amish groups resulted in less positive favor toward the Amish; these feelings
were linked to less knowledge and fear or anger toward the group (McGuigan et al.,
2007). Furthermore, there were associations between lower scores on the SDO scale as
well as the ATA scale. These findings suggested non-Amish folk who reported having
less academic education, also described more instances of bias and negative attitudes
toward the Amish than their educated, older counterparts.
IMPACTS OF OPPRESSION TOWARD THE AMISH 8
The original author conducted a follow up examination of this study in order to
test for reliability and validity of his ATA scale (McGuigan, 2014). His research on the
scale he created proved to have high internal consistency (α=0.80) as well as high internal
reliability (α=0.78). It is safe to say that the newly developed scales and implementation
of the ATA was sufficient enough in determining a sense of attitudinal bias and societal
value about the Amish. Some of the respondents’ attitudes toward the Amish involved a
lack of acceptance toward intercultural marriages, thoughts about the tendency for Amish
to be unfriendly, and assuming a lack of intelligence. Additionally, there was some
respondents who felt the Amish should be forced to drive across farm fields, instead of
the roads, implying the Amish are not entitled to the ownership of the roads (McGuigan,
et al., 2007). More often than not, about two-thirds of the sample in the original study had
some form of oppressive belief about the Amish whereas 87 percent of 106 Amish
reported feelings of comfort or ease interacting and living near non-Amish (McGuigan et
al., 2007; Savells, 1988). This phenomenon implies Amish are generally more tolerant,
accepting, and willing to bridge gaps between societal barriers, whereas some non-Amish
are perhaps hostile and suspicious of the Amish. Lastly, the author suggested future
implementation of similar scales and research pertaining to attitudes and prejudice toward
the Amish because of the growing need to provide academic knowledge on these isolated
minorities (McGuigan, 2014).
An additional set of attitude represented by the public is described by a study
conducted by Byers, Crider, and Biggers (1999). Semi-structured anonymous interviews
were given to subjects; they were expected to have taken part in recent violent and
IMPACTS OF OPPRESSION TOWARD THE AMISH 9
deviant acts toward the Amish in the community. To clarify, they were asked questions to
help bring light to recent cases regarding the act of clapping. Clapping includes instances
of behavior including but not limited to throwing firecrackers at horse drawn buggies or
horses, forcing buggies off of the road with motor vehicles, yelling obscenities at the
Amish, or smashing Amish mailboxes. Specifically, clapping refers to hate crimes that
are generated by feelings of hate, disgust, and confusion toward the Amish culture,
religion, behavior, dress, behavior, etc.
Beyond the goals of identifying the possible culprit who targeted the group,
researchers noted several attitudinal and stereotypical beliefs attached to the Amish.
Upon analysis, reasons for engaging in these behaviors were tied to sources of relative,
peer, and personal experiences with the Amish. Some respondents admitted to having
parents or elders who clapped when they were young and subsequently taught them and
their children to engage in the destructive behaviors. The root issues relating to this
phenomenon was due to stereotyping and holding negative opinions about the Amish
communities (Byers et al., 1999). With respect to peer interactions, these behaviors were
reinforced in small friendship groups, perpetuating negative perceptions of the Amish.
Some interviewees explained they felt more dominant and superior to the Amish in their
social spaces; they felt the Amish were different and unwelcomed inconveniences in
school and in the community.
In addition, many respondents gave reasons behind their negative behaviors
toward the Amish. Some referred to the Amish as “stupid”, “dirty”, and “backward”,
perhaps due to the fact the Amish are only required to attend school legally until eighth
IMPACTS OF OPPRESSION TOWARD THE AMISH 10
grade (Wisconsin v. Yoder, 1972). Other striking evidences of oppression, discrimination,
and outward hate toward the Amish included instances in which several respondents
viewed the Amish as “an easy mark” (Byers et al., 1999). Obviously the Amish dress in a
way that is modest; their garb consists of straw, felt, or woolen hats, casual slacks, button
up shirts, and beards whereas the women are identified commonly as having bonnets,
colonial-styled garments, and boots. However, these outfits also distinguish them from
other members of society. According to the interviewees, the Amish beliefs of
nonviolence and an unwillingness to incorporate the United States into their matters only
increased their reasoning to attack Amish civilians. Some of the respondents even
referenced engaging in these violent acts for feelings of joy, which according to Levin
and McDevitt (1994), signified thrill seeking behavior; these examples are more than
likely pathological behavior due to the nature of the attacks. To clarify, the incidents of
the attacks were anonymously directed, although they were thought out with intention to
injure, and the focus was to affect a vulnerable population, this case being the Amish
(McDevitt, Levin, & Bennett, 2002). These indicators best represent the core of
oppressive behavior as signified by a difference in power, conceptualized attitudes and
beliefs about a culture, combined with a notion to hurt or undermine the validity of a
different culture or religion.
Hate Crimes and Internalized Oppression Toward The Amish
There is some body of research that specifically established the content of hate
crimes such as violence and hate speech as methods of oppression toward the Amish. In
the previously mentioned study conducted by Byers et al., (1999), interviewees described
IMPACTS OF OPPRESSION TOWARD THE AMISH 11
their specific instances of hate and intolerance toward the Amish community. In the
study, many respondents explained minimization of their attacks, as evidenced by one
respondent who claimed, “I don’t really regret any of it…It was all, I thought clean fun.”
Similarly, another respondent reported feelings of normalcy in the treatment toward the
Amish as well as denial of sustained injury caused by their mischief: “Stuff like that
happens to them. It happens to them all the time. They are used to it I think”. Even more
examples of oppression took the form of victim blaming, reported by one who stated
“They (the Amish) were in the wrong place [at the] wrong time” (Byers et al., 1999).
Although many respondents claimed justification for their actions, some
respondents came to self-realizations of their practices, including one who stated, “Their
social status was so far below ours, because they weren’t even actual humans. They were
dehumanized.” Some reflection on these actions spurred some interviewees to realize the
enormity of their behaviors and come to these conclusions. Obviously, denial of
responsibility and justification of actions as harmless minimized how the Amish suffered
from hate crimes and episodes of violence. These oppressive and discriminatory acts are
perpetuated through ease of violence and belief of “deserved” treatment, as referenced by
the respondents (Byers et al., 1999).
A further exploration of hate crime is evidenced in the study conducted by Moore
(2015) who studied the instances of hate crimes and violence directed to the Amish from
other Amish. The law review examined the history of beard cutting, which is a major
religious and personal hate crime toward the Amish. The beards that males carry are
symbolic in belonging to the Amish religion, as well as marriage in older men, showing
IMPACTS OF OPPRESSION TOWARD THE AMISH 12
respect and appreciation toward religious heritage. Generally, the attacks involved local
Amish bishops or citizens holding down other Amish men and using horse shears and
hair clippers to forcibly cut beard and head hair as a method of violence and power
(Moore, 2015). Additionally, many survivors suffered some bleeding, not to mention
some emotional trauma and frustration. These instances of oppression may be caused by
outside affects of oppression by non-Amish, stimulating notions of anger and frustration
within the Amish community
According to the Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009, convictions for religion-
based hate crimes began to connect to the behaviors and violations toward communities
such as the Amish (Hate Crimes Prevention Act, 2009). The major lawsuit attached to
examples of beard cutting was a verdict rendered in September of 2012 as illustrated in
United States v. Mullet (2012), which charged sixteen members of the Amish Bergholz
community guilty of the beard cutting. Additionally, the broad wording of the Hate
Crimes Prevention Act of 2009 helped protect the religious rights but it took several years
to allow equal protection as other religions, considering this lawsuit was one of the first
of its kind (Hate Crimes Prevention Act, 2009). The reasoning for this was due to the fact
the Amish community disapproves of relying on outside forces like the United States
legal system to handle internal community problems (Moore, 2015). Specific acts of
beard cutting may be tied to internalized oppression such as anger, resentment, and
frustration from attacks by the dominant culture. Also, due to a lack of research in this
field, the author is unsure the reasoning of each of these attacks due to the difficulty in
measuring the “why” factor. However, these examples are comparable to other instances
IMPACTS OF OPPRESSION TOWARD THE AMISH 13
of minority on minority crime, witnessed in current society.
Theoretical Foundations to Better Explain Amish Oppression
According to Byers and Crider (2002) many negative interpretations and
misconceptions about the Amish have been linked with prejudice, harassment,
intimidation, and even violence. Specifically, these authors relate this finding to the
attitudinal features of the lifestyle, culture, and religion of the Amish. Furthermore, many
outsiders and non-Amish have historically considered the group of Amish communities
as an “out-group” which implies a sense of “othering”, causing social disconnect and fear
or discomfort toward the Amish (Byers et al., 2002).
Theories related to the instances of abuse and oppression toward the Amish can
help explain possible reasons behind oppression toward each other as well as ethnocentric
devaluing from non-Amish toward the Amish community. Because the simplistic
lifestyle of the Amish is rarely researched, it is important to try to gain an understanding
of the reasoning behind oppression they face. There are several possible methods of
analysis, specifically in the application of social learning theory and micro aggression
theory. These are significant steps toward understanding the world of behavior within
Amish culture. According to Albert Bandura (1961) social learning theory is perpetuated
through modeling behavior, and observing other actions, both positive and negative.
Also, people may mirror and approach the Amish as novelty, lesser than, and submissive
after hearing about the characterization of their behavior in the news or in daily contact
(Bandura, 1977). The more people who misinterpret their natural ethos and way of life
the more people may be taught by peers, family, or friends to belittle the population. As
IMPACTS OF OPPRESSION TOWARD THE AMISH 14
we know, previous behavior predicts future behavior. Communities near Amish
settlements may be taught to abhor or distance themselves away from the Amish in an
attempt to discredit or ignore their place in society as valid and equal beings.
To extend this notion of social learning, it is important to compare Bandura’s
(1977) principle to the combination of the theory of micro aggression and social distance
theory. The theory of micro aggression explains a phenomenon of unintended
discrimination (Pierce, 1970). Specifically, from the inside world of the Amish, the men
and women in the community are ascribed specific roles in regards to labor and care of
the household. However, according to research conducted by Ericksen and Klein (1981)
productions of Amish women are looked at as inferior, compared to the superior labor
related to farm-work as in the case of men in the community. Additionally, women have
a significantly less amount of power as described by the inclusion into private and public
spheres like domestic housework, although Hostetler and Huntington (1971) argue that
the male and female dominated spheres of work are equal. In fact, raising children,
mutual respect, and rules are agreed upon. Although this may be true for some
communities, the lives of Amish women may be considered less important, or not as
impactful in some decision making, as described by the need to be loyal, obedient, and
subservient to the household husband (Ericksen et al., 1981).
Amish women may be less powerful in the sense their distribution of goods and
connection to networks outside the home are lessened dramatically, causing social
distance. The patriarchal view of male dominated public spheres but egalitarian
viewpoints of the private sphere may create a seemingly equal environment. However,
IMPACTS OF OPPRESSION TOWARD THE AMISH 15
the implications of these viewpoints mirror unequal levels of power and influence for the
women in the Amish community (Ericksen et al., 1981). To compare these phenomenon
to social learning, these methods of behavior, family lineage, expectation of roles,
division of labor, and values of gendered work ethic are all learned and taught from
generation to generation, which may explain why some women feel inferior to their
husbands. Additionally, these explanations may also help explain how micro aggressive
acts are perpetuated throughout history. To clarify, many Amish women are expected to
be submissive to their husbands, which outsiders may view as oppressive. Specifically,
research considered women of various Amish communities and found many were
unhappy and felt inferior to their husbands (Schmidt, 2001). One woman explained being
forced to quit her job as a restaurant waitress, which she viewed as a sense of personal
identity and freedom. The demand from her husband to quit made her feel insecure and
saddened, although the end result was all for the good of the farm and raising the children
(Schmidt, 2001). According to this explanation, there appears to be a struggle of self-
identity as well as conflicts between families and communities based off of religious
expectations; men require women to adhere to their rules. Although these are part of the
sensitive and cultural Amish doctrines, this social structure may become internalized into
unintended discrimination and oppression by the Amish, as outlined by the micro
aggression theory (Pierce, 1970).
Further examples of theoretical foundations to support the instances of aggression
and oppression toward the Amish are evidenced by research conducted by Allport (1954)
as well as affective social distance, a subset of the famous social distance scale
IMPACTS OF OPPRESSION TOWARD THE AMISH 16
(Bogardus, 1947). Specifically, findings by Allport (1954) focus on in-group and out-
group members such as Amish and non-Amish and attitudinal bias based off of level of
contact. Cognitive distance is a distance between cultures based off of misunderstandings
and disinterest. In the Amish, this phenomenon is related to the detachment between the
people of Amish origin and non-Amish communities (McGuigan et al., 2007). These
instances of “othering” and bias created by a lack of social interactions may help explain
the discomfort some people feel toward the Amish. For a lack of better explanation, an
irrational fear based off of a lack of knowledge of the Amish culture and religion is
perpetuated by a lack of social interaction and immersion in these rural communities.
Similarly, the social distance scale created by Bogardus (1947) may help measure the
level of discomfort and measure overall bias and discomfort toward the Amish. It can
also help explain why differences in perceived social ties are so low between Amish and
non-Amish communities. The merits of these theories are great when combined because
not only do they pertain to behaviors learned throughout social groups, but they also
measure the degree or extent to which bias is perpetuated toward the Amish. By
extension, these theories also create spaces for research; they may uncover subtle
discriminatory acts perceived as less intrusive or affective behavior by non-Amish.
Ultimately, these aforementioned examples are nonetheless aggressive acts of violence
due to the nature and vulnerability of the Amish. Due to the fact little research has been
done on these measures and theoretical analyses, future studies should incorporate these
theories as well as ecological theory or systems theory to better explain and understand
the dynamics of interactions between the Amish and non-Amish.
IMPACTS OF OPPRESSION TOWARD THE AMISH 17
The Social, Economic, Political, and Health Aspects of the Amish: Benefits and
The Amish community and its members have been able to remain autonomous
from dominant forms of society in order to remain stable from outside oppression.
Economically, the Amish have demonstrated an ability to adjust well to constant change,
even though they may be tempted by pressures to change ways of thinking in work and
machinery. However, the Amish are self-sustainable and have been relatively unchanged
even when challenged by recessions in the market (Holmes et al., 2013). Additionally,
little research supports any instances of economic affects based off of their cultural or
religious background. For example, due to the idea many Amish are self-employed or
work for other Amish communities, there is not much oppression at hand. However,
some research has shed light upon Amish taking “English” or “yankee” jobs where some
have been known to make upwards of $30 per hour working in businesses, construction,
contracting, and other traditional labor jobs. Due to the virtues of the Amish, the general
community does not request or accept welfare from the government, nor do they accept
other government subsidies. Due to this phenomenon, there is surprisingly little
unemployment (Holmes et al., 2013).
Greksa and Korbin (2004) examined the contexts of economic factors on physical
well-being and concluded the Amish generally accept aid between their communities.
There is a consensus of mutual rejection from outside and governmental aid including
social security benefits and other forms of health insurance. However, when and if they
must utilize outside assistance from hospitals like in the case of births, many Amish men
IMPACTS OF OPPRESSION TOWARD THE AMISH 18
who work off in non-Amish communities typically utilize the commercial health
packages as part of their benefits. According to Greksa et al., (2004), only Amish who
feel their providers will be sensitive to their needs as well as respectful about treatment
methods and practices will choose to use outside assistance in cases of emergency or for
checkups. Additionally, some health care coverage can be scarce when Amish
communities have no other option, which may tie in the negative perceptions of their
families from professionals in hospital settings (Greksa & Korbin, 2004).
Stressors like equal access to culturally sensitive care and worries about funding
and struggling to collect aid from within the community can cause anxiety or distress
when emergency situations arise. In turn, these indirect oppressive forces are in the sense
of access to care and a lack of competent medical professionals who can claim Amish as
their patients. Ann Cudd (2006) offers a theoretical explanation for economic inequality
of the Amish. She contends that Amish may suffer from different forces of oppression
related to poverty such as voluntary removal from dominant society. She argues this may
cause psychological distress and economic downturn due to high levels of discontent and
low levels of joy with their standard of living. Additionally, Cudd (2006) offers us a
viable reason to see the Amish as oppressed from voluntary choices of self-sufficiency;
this phenomenon may ultimately cause harm and economic inequality, which in turn
creates a sense of self-regulated oppression seen by outsiders, but not the actual Amish.
To clarify, the way in which we see oppressive forces may not compare to the types of
oppression seen by the Amish, and vice versa. Subtle oppressive acts they receive may be
enlarged due to their limited resources, but is combated with great resilience. These
IMPACTS OF OPPRESSION TOWARD THE AMISH 19
economic inequalities, although voluntary and indirect efforts by the Amish must be
investigated further. Although the Amish have some economic inequality compared to
modern-day society, voluntary and indirect effects of these volitions to remain as simple
folk must be investigated further in research.
Several political actions including some focusing on education and labor laws
have been under scrutiny by the United States. In regards to labor laws, Amish
communities have only seen more support to their environments rather than harm.
According to Lavoie (2006) the Amish are almost looked at as exemptions. For example,
after the Amish requested to have their children work, a bill was passed in 2004 allowing
underage children to work in local Amish communities (The Consolidated
Appropriations Act, 2004) as well as allow them to work in apprenticeships once the
youth have completed their formal education, usually up until eighth grade.
Otherwise, the only true oppressive force condemning Amish for their culture
was in the case of Wisconsin v. Yoder (1972), in which families were convicted of
withholding education from their children. However, Amish families contended their
religion only requires education up to eighth grade, arguing that more education causes
arrogance. The United States accepted the Amish to exercise religion freely; the United
States believed they would burden the Amish way of religion if they were to force them
to attend school past eighth grade (Lavoie, 2006). Although, it may seem as if the Amish
are exempt from intolerance and structure from the law, they are simply abiding to their
strict religious and cultural guidelines as well as attempting to eradicate any possibility of
oppression. Factually, the Amish are merely a community that isolates itself, a benefit
IMPACTS OF OPPRESSION TOWARD THE AMISH 20
from this is possible avoidance of higher societal factors of oppression that are
institutional. To date, there is little evidence or research that documents clear forms of
oppression toward the Amish; they were the first few to separate themselves from
attachment to governmental requirements. In turn, this may help explain why they have
not had as much institutional oppression as other races, ethnicities, religions, cultures,
sexes, genders, etc. as others.
Agent groups who target these cultural and religious minorities may benefit from
the ability to dominate local businesses surrounding the Amish. Naturally, this ideology
refers to Karl Marx (1967) and his approaches in relating to the levels of early economic
stability and forces dominating smaller markets such as those seen in the Amish. These
philosophical references to Marx (1967) indicate organized force, work, and labor to
come to a desired end result, much like how we see the Amish in today’s society.
Additionally, some may argue the well being of non-Amish in regards to their access to
mental and physical health care trump Amish methods, due to acceptance in stronger and
more robust methods of care. Although these statements may be true for some
communities, they are nonetheless attitudinal biases that rest on assumptions based off of
religious and cultural differences, as well as stereotypes in available resources.
Furthermore, denying structure and stability of the Amish can create biases and in turn
create more social distance between Amish and non-Amish communities.
Drawbacks of oppressing Amish populations may include instances where the
government may not feel obligated or interested in helping the Amish in times of strife or
crisis. Because they are not technically under any obligation to assist the government, the
IMPACTS OF OPPRESSION TOWARD THE AMISH 21
government may not to see the Amish as clear and viable populations worth any support,
such as in cases of natural disasters. It is difficult to assume what “drawbacks” and
“benefits” each population may sustain considering these are merely assumptions; they
are difficult to source due to a lack of clear examples in history.
Major Efforts To Resist Oppression
According to Foster (1984), the ability that Amish hold to onto community values
and beliefs have allotted them stronger coping skills to remain resilient in the midst of
societal pressures such as conformity to modern industry and technology. Additionally,
this resistance not only reinforces their values, ethical philosophy, and religious
fundamentals, but also rebukes the want to engage in typical communication and contact
with non-Amish. By extension, one can argue the Amish are maintaining boundaries in
more ways than culture and religion in order to accommodate and create stability in the
face of oppressive outside forces. These forces may manifest themselves in the form of
politics, mandatory law enforcement, psychological distrust, and sustained oppression
due to biases, as evidenced by research described earlier by Byers et al., (1999) and
Due to their defenseless non-violent nature, refusal to serve in the army and
conformity, societal and religious standards of the 16th century, it is possible that the
Amish would have been dominated by mainstream society and would not exist and
behave as they do, currently. Ultimately, the Amish are still oppressed by non-Amish,
however, due to their beliefs in forgiveness, the Amish are seen as resilient, strong, and
highly moral. (Smoyak, 2006). The ability to forgive is important because of their
IMPACTS OF OPPRESSION TOWARD THE AMISH 22
religious teachings. It is not in their power to judge others, therefore, they turn to God as
their higher power; they therefore tend to not waste time holding grudges, or ruminating
on issues that personally affect them (Kasdorf, 2007). These instances have benefited
their resilience and well being because they have been able to see indiscretions as
mistakes, rather than complete judgments of personal character. However, this mode of
thought may be misinterpreted as naïve or too trusting by outsiders. This phenomena may
be a risk factor for possible oppression and make them easy targets, as previous research
showed in the hate crime analysis study, conducted by Byers e al., (1999).
Key Social Work Practice in Micro and Macro Contexts: Eliminating Oppression
The Amish are an isolated community, found primarily in the States of Ohio,
Pennsylvania, and Indiana. The original roots of the Amish dating back to the 16th
century in Germany and Switzerland have long since disappeared. The context for social
work practice is to address these closed and isolated communities who do not identify
their lives as fluidly as non-Amish Americans. According to most recent research, it is
imperative to understand the dynamic and unique subset of Amish in order to create
access to physical and mental health treatment (Heru, 2015). Additionally, working
around communication and language nuances are difficult and must not be overlooked,
individual therapy and family social work would be negatively affected. Additionally, the
complexities of therapy and intervention with the Amish are almost taboo. To clarify, the
Amish believe critical thinking leads to damnation; so working inside and with the
community rather than against their culture is highly recommended (Heru, 2015).
Additionally, Heru (2015) described the patriarchal society of the Amish and asserts
IMPACTS OF OPPRESSION TOWARD THE AMISH 23
women and children may be disadvantaged due to norms and values attributed to
religious and traditional behavior such as respect and submission. Any micro or macro
policy changes would not as beneficial as community education and rapport building with
the Amish populations. One action-oriented process could be to increase community
connections and help decrease hate crime by teaching law enforcement sensitivity
training to combat the increased rate of oppression and violence toward these vulnerable
Ultimately, there may be some difficult decisions the Amish must face when
considering therapy; clinicians must assess which ones are most beneficial and assist in
treatment modalities. According to Heru (2015), the whole town who is part of the family
gets to decide the best role and method of treatment, with highest control given to the
bishop who runs the religious ceremonies and protocol in the communities. With social
workers who wish to assist in areas other than rural, isolated, and traditional parts of the
world, it is important to remind oneself of the importance of the power of religion and
holistic remedies. They are the first and foremost treatments within these communities
and must be suggested before insisting the latest and most evidence based theory, out of
respect for their culture (Heru, 2015). Other important factors that go into social work
practice is the emphasis on home visitation, which was taught to me by my supervisor,
who works in and with a population of Amish who are part of several ideologies on the
spectrum of conservatism and liberal philosophy. Generally, it is best to offer oneself to
visit them, due to respect for the Amish way of simplicity and humility. Additionally, it
IMPACTS OF OPPRESSION TOWARD THE AMISH 24
goes beyond respect because home visitation is easier for the Amish, since they are
restricted to horse-and-buggy, most of the time.
According to Cates (2005), mental health treatment of the Amish is different than
other populations due to the fact they do not tie their emotions or rapport building with
other non-Amish. Instead, they are keener on mutual respect and have better relationships
when differences and similarities are understood. However, there have been successful
methods of therapy and social connections in which Amish do establish close ties with
therapists (Cates, 2005). Social workers would benefit from learning about Amish
culture, religion, history, and traditions, such as “Rumspringa”, which is a specific
cultural right of passage allowing teenage boys and girls up to two years of “running
around”. During so, there are no reinforced familial restrictions and parental control is
lessened significantly. In conjunction, these processes also allow for the youth to discover
their sense of personal identity. This ritual allows teenagers to venture off with less
guidance and essentially teenagers are given a free pass to allow themselves time to
understand the “English” or “yankee” non-Amish world.
According to Cates (2005), therapists must put the greatest emphasis in social
work to initially focus on disclosing personal home location, number of children, and
martial status, which is more than enough means to establish rapport with the Amish.
Additionally, social work practice with the Amish must be keen on subtle nuances, non-
verbal cues, and discussion over payment plans.
Future Work and Research
IMPACTS OF OPPRESSION TOWARD THE AMISH 25
My future holds much involvement with the Amish population. Luckily, I have
gained interest in this population because it is one of the major populations of
Ravenwood Mental Health Center, where I intern. I hope to be able to share more eye-
opening experiences with non-Amish about the world of the Amish because it is
definitely a microculture worth studying. Not only do people not recognize them as
viable people in our society, but when they are discovered, they are usually met with
disdain, disinterest, mistrust, discomfort, or anger. I have learned an extensive amount of
quality information from research regarding the Amish and oppression toward their
community. Not only have I learned a great deal of factual information, I have developed
some necessary historical information as well as foundational and theoretical constructs
to help myself become more empathetic toward the Amish. These new realizations will
also help me formulate necessary communication with these rural folk in a variety of
areas for future social work.
I hope to observe the Amish and then ultimately, provide access to services to this
population at my agency in Chardon and Middlefield, Ohio. I have begun to take strong
interest in the development of future research in this field solely based on the fact there
are so little documentation on these subcultures. There needs to be more in depth and
evidence based research providing up to date methods and access to services for the
Amish. The lack of established and robust literature in this rural field of sociology,
psychology, and public health possibly indicates a lack of interest, access, and possibly
disinterest or ignorance toward the simple, hard working and morally steadfast people
known as the Amish.
IMPACTS OF OPPRESSION TOWARD THE AMISH 26
Allport, G. W. (1954). The Nature of Prejudice . Cambridge, MA: Addison-Wesley.
Bandura, A., Ross, D., & Ross, S. A. (1961). Transmission of Aggression Through
Imitation of Aggressive Models. Journal Of Abnormal And Social Psychology,
Bandura, A. (1977). Social Learning Theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Bogardus, E. S. (1947). Changes in Racial Distance. International Journal of Attitude
and Opinion Research, 1, 55–62
Byers, B., Crider, B. W., & Biggers, G. K. (1999). Bias Crime Motivation: A Study of
Hate Crime and Offender Neutralization Techniques Used Against the Amish.
Journal Of Contemporary Criminal Justice, 15(1), 78.
Byers, B. D., & Crider, B. W. (2002). Hate Crimes Against the Amish: A Qualitative
Analysis of Bias Motivation Using Routine Activities Theory. Deviant Behavior,
23(2), 115-148. doi:10.1080/016396202753424529
Cates, J. A. (2005). Facing Away: Mental Health Treatment with the Old Order Amish.
American Journal Of Psychotherapy, 59(4), 371-383.
The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2004, Pub. L. No. 108-447, U.S. Code § 118.
Cudd, A. E. (2006). Analyzing oppression. New York: Oxford University Press.
Donnermeyer, J., & Friedrich, L. (2006). Amish Society: an Overview Reconsidered.
Journal Of Multicultural Nursing & Health (JMCNH), 12(3), 35-43 9p.
IMPACTS OF OPPRESSION TOWARD THE AMISH 27
Ericksen, J., & Klein, G. (1981). Women's Roles and Family Production among the Old
Order Amish. Rural Sociology, 46(2), 282-296.
Foster, T. W. (1984). Separation and Survival in Amish Society. Sociological Focus,
Greksa, L.P. and J.E. Korbin, 2004, Amish. In: Encyclopedia of Medical Anthropology:
Health and Illness in the World's Cultures, Volume 2: Cultures, ed. by C.R.
Ember and M. Ember. New York: Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers, pp. 557
Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009, 18 U.S. Code § 249 (2009)
Heru, A. M. (2015). Review of Serving the Amish: A Cultural Guide for Professionals.
The American Journal Of Psychiatry, 172(6), 590-591.
Holmes, D., & Block, W. (2013). Amish in the 21st century. Religion & Theology, 20 (3-
4), 371 383. doi:10.1163/15743012-12341269
Hostetler, J.A. and G.E. Huntington, (1971), Children in Amish Society: Socialization
and Community Education. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc.
Hostetler, J. A. (1993). Amish society. 4th ed. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Kasdorf, J. S. (2007). To Pasture: “Amish Forgiveness,” Silence, and the West Nickel
Mines School Shooting. Cross Currents, 57(3), 328.
Kraybill, D. B., Johnson-Weiner, K., & Nolt, S. M. (2014). The Amish. Journal Of Amish
And Plain Anabaptist Studies, 2(2), 298-302.
IMPACTS OF OPPRESSION TOWARD THE AMISH 28
Lavoie, J. A. (2006). Under Grace: Legal Isolation and the Children of the Old Order
Amish. Modern American, 2(1), 32-34.
Levin, J., & McDevitt, J. (1994). Hate Crime Training Manual, Federal Law Enforcement
Training Center (FLETC). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.
Marx, Karl. Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Vol. I. Ch. 31. The Process of
Capitalist Production. Frederick Engels, Ernest Untermann, eds. Samuel Moore,
Edward Aveling, translated 1907;1967. Library of Economics and Liberty.
McDevitt, J., Levin, J., & Bennett, S. (2002). Hate Crime Offenders: An Expanded
Typology. Journal Of Social Issues, 58(2), 303.
McGuigan, W. M., & Scholl, C. (2007). The Effect of Contact on Attitudes Toward Old
Order Amish. Journal Of Applied Social Psychology, 37(11), 2642-2659.
McGuigan, W. (2014). Reliability and Validity of a Scale to Measure Prejudice Toward
Old Order Amish. Journal Of Amish And Plain Anabaptist Studies, 2(1), 147-
Moellendorf, Warsh, & Yoshimaru. (1997). The Amish Culture: A Closer Look at the
People of Lancaster County. Unpublished student manuscript, St. Norbert
College, De Pere, WI.
Moore, A. D. (2015). Method of Attack: A Supplemental Model for Hate Crime
Analysis. Indiana Law Journal, 90(4), 1707-1726.
Nolt, S.M. (1992). A History of the Amish. Intercourse, PA.; Good Books.
IMPACTS OF OPPRESSION TOWARD THE AMISH 29
Pierce, C. (1970). Offensive Mechanisms. In F. Barbour (Ed.), The Black Seventies
(pp.265-282). Boston, MA: Porter Sargent.
Pratto, F., Sidanius, J., Stallworth, L. M., & Malle, B. F. (1994). Social Dominance
Orientation: A Personality Variable Predicting Social and Political Attitudes.
Journal Of Personality & Social Psychology, 67(4), 741-763.
Reiling, D. M. (2002). The “Simmie” Side of Life: Old Order Amish Youths' Affective
Response to Culturally Prescribed Deviance. Youth & Society, 34(2), 146-171.
Savells, J. (1988). Economic and Social Acculturation Among the Old Order Amish in
Select Communities: Surviving in a High-Tech Society. Journal Of Comparative
Family Studies, 19(1), 123-135.
Schmidt, K. D.(2001). "Sacred Farming" or "Working Out": The Negotiated Lives of
Conservative Mennonite Farm Women. Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies
Smoyak, S. A. (2006). The Amish Way: Coping with Tragedy. Journal Of Psychosocial
Nursing And Mental Health Services, 44(12), 6-7.
United States v. Samuel Mullet, Sr. 868 F.Supp.2d 618 (N.D. Ohio 2012)
Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 US 205 (1972)