Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Ordinances and Ordnungs

The theory of government is that individuals surrender some of their natural rights in order to establish a social order for their mutual welfare and protection of liberty. The purpose of local government is to transmute the will of a community of people, through the political process, into an enforceable legal system for the community. This set of rules I will call the Ordinance.

Amish communities do not form legal systems as we know them with courts, lawyers, and police, but nevertheless they do create their own sets of enforceable rules, which in a given community is called the Ordnung. The Ordnung is similar to the Ordinance in that they are both justified as the community’s rules for membership. They share the purpose of upholding community and public order.

The Ordinance and the Ordnung cover some similar ground. Both impose property and land use restrictions on individuals. The Ordnung tends to impose more restrictions and commonly prohibits members from using grid electricity or owning certain devices like computers or telephones. Some allow ownership of computers and telephones but place restrictions on where they may be located or how they may be used. The Ordinance tends to be more permissive regarding how property is to be used but may still commonly restrict what sort of buildings an individual may create or whether signs are allowed on property, and if so, what size. An important difference with respect to land use restrictions is that the Ordnung applies uniformly for all members, but the Ordinance applies different rules depending on the category a property lot is grouped in and usually provides an application process whereby one may ask permission from the local enforcers to violate an Ordinance provision.

Other areas of particular importance in an Ordnung are regulations of an individual’s personal appearance and interpersonal relationships. For example, the Ordnung includes rules that cover clothing and hair styles as well as prohibit divorce or marriage to an unbaptized individual. Amish are also not allowed to pursue jobs as law enforcers, judges, or politicians. The Ordinance usually has little to enforce in such matters, though land use restrictions commonly prohibit the type of employment that may be pursued on a piece of property.

The Ordnung may impose rules more deeply in the private affairs of an individual, but this results from the spirit from which it originates. Whereas the purpose of the Ordinance is solely for public order, the Ordnung is also designed to guide followers in their Christian life and in particular protect individuals from pride.

Perhaps the most important differences between the Ordnung and the Ordinance is in their scope of application and enforcement. The Ordinance is imposed upon a particular geographic location, and individuals within that area are not provided a choice as to whether they wish to adopt the Ordinance. If one desires a different Ordinance or none at all, then an individual may either attempt to influence others politically to alter that area’s Ordinance, or move to another geographic location that employs a different (though likely similar) Ordinance.  A few mostly uninhabited areas may not impose an Ordinance.

An Ordnung is constrained by geographical concerns but is not applied to everyone within a given area. The Ordnung is not enforced on non-Amish, though it may restrict how church members may interact with the non-Amish. Amish neighbors may belong to difference churches with different Ordnungs. If one desires a different Ordnung or none at all, then an individual may apply social pressure to alter the church’s Ordnung, or join a different church that employs a different (though likely similar) Ordnung, or disassociate from any church.

Non-conformers of both the Ordnung and the Ordinance may face severe consequences. With the Ordnung, a wayward member will have an escalation of social pressure applied as non-cooperation continues. The ultimate consequence of persistent non-cooperation is that church members end all interaction with the individual. However, even in the case of being shunned, an individual may re-enter the community given proper repentance.

Non-conformers of the Ordinance may face social pressure to end non-permitted behavior, but this is not the primary means of enforcement. Rather, economic punishment is employed, usually in the form of a monetary sum demanded for each day the wayward member continues non-permitted behavior. If non-cooperation with the Ordinance is continued, the member may have property seized or be sent to prison.

The Ordnung is adopted in a religious spirit that an individual may lead a better life in community with others and follows rules to uphold that community, but that those rules should only ever apply in the spirit of love and never be applied by force.

The Ordinance is also adopted in a religious spirit that an individual may lead a better life in community with others and follow rules to uphold the community, but that those rules are to be applied in the spirit of authoritative law, where the measure of force to be applied is determined by a political process.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Letter to a Town Lawyer

The little town we moved to has a local newspaper, and recently two letters appears that complained of the town government's enforcement of land use laws against them.  One townsperson wrote a letter in support of the government against these individuals.  I posted the following in response:

Hi Charles,

I disagree with your premise: “That is, whether or not one agrees with the law one is bound by it, no matter who they are or think they are.”

I think we can all think of laws, current or past, that so conflict with our moral sense that we would support those who break them; even in some cases consider them heroes!

I believe one is bound not by the laws of the government but by one’s conscience and the moral law written in one’s heart. Of course there is great personal risk in not following the government’s laws, and as a result we often subject ourselves to it for practical reasons.

Yes, perhaps these statements are a bit grandiose when we are considering the petty zoning ordinances of a small town. I suspect the motivation for the letters had more to do with the manner in which the ordinances were enforced.

I agree that one person’s actions have effects on neighbors, and in community we should seek to resolve disputes caused by those actions. But I stand by my words from an earlier comment: it is in community that we resolve differences through communication and compassion, not through police and lawyers.

The zoning laws are not the will of the people. They are the will of some of the people, who have selected particular means to enforce them that I object to.