Microkhan by Brendan I. Koerner

The Cattle and the Mark

March 17th, 2010 · 4 Comments

The Amish generally prefer not to mess with the American legal system, but the Wisconsin left them no choice. Badger State authorities decided to make the Amish comply with regulations that made the registration of “livestock premises” mandatory. One farmer, Emanuel Miller, decided to fight back, claiming that the program infringed on his religious freedom. The Clark County Circuit Court saw it his way:

An Amish farmer in Clark County has won his fight against the state’s livestock registration law, which he argued violates his religious beliefs.

The case against Emanuel Miller Jr. of Loyal was the first in the state against an Amish farmer over refusal to obey the 2005 mandatory livestock registration law, aimed at controlling outbreaks of disease. It requires owners of premises where livestock is kept to register the location, number and type of livestock with the state.

Amish and other farmers around the nation have been following Miller’s case because of a fear that the law is the first step to the individual tagging of all livestock, a program once advanced by the federal government. Some Amish and others say such a numbering system would amount to the “mark of the beast,” which is referenced in the Book of Revelation as being related to Satan…If he registered his farm, Miller testified, he would be shunned by his church and risk eternal damnation.

The full ruling can be found here. This strikes us as sort of a big deal, since such arguments are likely to become more and more common as location-based technologies are rolled out en masse. A key to the Wisconsin court’s decision was its conclusion that Miller’s beliefs were genuine. We’re curious as to how other courts will determine if the similarly anti-technology views of non-Amish litigants are real, rather than a ruse to avoid supervision. How, exactly, do you look inside a person’s heart and make that distinction? Or can these protections only extend to people whose entire lifestyle amounts to one long act of devotion?


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4 Comments so far ↓

  • Jordan

    In a sense, don’t we already make legal judgments about intention? First degree murder is the biggest I can think of. But also with respect to whether or not particular religious groups can claim tax-exempt status. Though I don’t think you could pay me enough money to be the person who makes those judgments. The Scientologists especially seem to go pretty crazy on anyone who claims that they aren’t a religion. I can’t imagine that other cults are any more stable.

  • Brian Moore

    I’m confused how a livestock numbering system that kept the “location, number and type of livestock” is going to violate his beliefs.

    His land (the location) is already registered in that I’m sure it has a parcel # with the state. In fact, he himself has been assigned a number by the state — though it hasn’t stopped other religious crazies from saying this is a sign of the End Days.

    Plus his livestock, as property, is I’m sure cataloged at some place, like say if he wants to sell them to another farmer, or for meat. Does he just say “all the cows over there” and not specify how many or what type? Would he notice if I stole one? If so, then he’s already registering them somewhere.

    Finally, does it matter who does the registering? If a guy from the state comes by and looks at his cows, is that problem? Or only if he does it?

  • Brendan I. Koerner

    @Jordan: I am eternally fascinated by the challenges of defining what constitutes a cult. I used to think it had something to do with the beliefs of the people at the top–that a cult’s leaders didn’t actually believe what they were spouting. But over time, I’ve realized that doesn’t work in all cases.

    @Brian Moore: Agreed, there is obv. some logical inconsistency here. I went back and re-read the ruling, but it doesn’t shed much light. I am certainly no expert on Amish theology, so I can only speculate. But I do wonder if there was some external push from the same folks who got the U.S. government to kill the NAIS program. The organization that led that drive filed an amicus brief in this case. Hmmmm…

  • Brian Moore

    “But I do wonder if there was some external push from the same folks who got the U.S. government to kill the NAIS program. The organization that led that drive filed an amicus brief in this case. Hmmmm…”

    Ahhh, now that at least I could’ve seen coming.

    I wonder how they feel about the ubiquitous cattle branding? (at least in the cowboy movies I’ve seen) That “mark of the beast” really was branded into the cow’s flesh!