Contrary to some misperceptions, the Amish do pay taxes: state and federal income taxes, sales and real estate taxes, and public school taxes. They are exempt from paying Social Security taxes, however, because they consider Social Security a form of insurance and therefore refuse its benefits. The Amish believe that the Bible instructs them to care for church members who have special needs, including the elderly. To rely on commercial or government insurance would contradict their belief that God will care for them through the church.
The Amish are taught to respect and pray for governing authorities according to biblical admonitions. However, when caught in a conflict between their conscience and civic law, they cite the scripture verse “Obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). From their reading of the New Testament, particularly the Sermon on the Mount, they believe that Jesus’s followers are to be nonviolent, and they forbid self-defense as well as entering the armed forces.
The Amish emphasize the separation of church and state. They prefer not to receive subsidies from government programs. They will typically not serve in government committees or commissions, but will often consult and cooperate with local officials. The Amish generally avoid holding public office and engaging in political activism. They are, however, permitted to vote. The rate of voting is typically low unless a local issue is on the ballot.
In recent years, numerous conflicts have pitted the Amish against the growing regulatory power of the state. The points of friction have included military service, education, Social Security, health care, property zoning, child labor, photo identification, and the use of slow-moving-vehicle signs. To cope with these various conflicts, the Amish have formed a national steering committee with representatives in various states to work with public legislators when issues arise. In general, however, the Amish have fared rather well in a political system that respects and protects their freedom of religious expression.
- See chapter 19, “Government and Civic Relations,” in Donald B. Kraybill, Karen M. Johnson-Weiner, and Steven M. Nolt, The Amish (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013).
- Donald B. Kraybill, ed., The Amish and The State, 2nd ed. (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003).
- Donald B. Kraybill and Kyle Kopko, “Bush Fever: Amish and Old Order Mennonites in the 2004 Presidential Election,” Mennonite Quarterly Review 81, no. 2 (April 2007): 165-205.