Jacob Gingerich et al. v. Commonwealth of Kentucky

Court Opinion

The series of appeals clarified the standard of review to be applied to religious freedom claims made under Kentucky’s Constitution. (This opinion has since been nullified by passage of HB 279 in March 2013.) Most religious freedom claims brought under the United States Constitution are subject to rational basis scrutiny. However, Kentucky case law was unclear as to which level of scrutiny – i.e., rational basis or strict scrutiny – should apply to state law religious freedom claims. The appellants in these cases are members of the Schwartzentruber Amish community in northern Kentucky. Based on their religious beliefs regarding use of colors and man-made symbols, they refused to affix a slow-moving vehicle emblem (orange and red triangle) on their buggies. Instead, they placed grey reflective tape around the entire perimeter of the backs of their buggies and used lanterns. They appealed their criminal convictions, claiming that use of the slow moving vehicle emblem significantly burdened their sincerely held religious beliefs and that use of the reflective tape and lanterns satisfied the state’s safety concerns without imposing a burden on their religious freedom. Kentucky’s Supreme Court held that the freedom of religion clause in the Kentucky Constitution should be construed consistently with that contained in the U.S. Constitution and that laws of general applicability which infringe upon religious freedom are subject to rational basis scrutiny. Under this ruling, Amish buggy drivers must utilize the slow moving vehicle emblem.