By Steve Robrahn
LOUISVILLE, Ky (Reuters) - Eight members of a traditional Amish sect were behind bars on Tuesday after refusing to pay fines for failure to display orange-red safety triangles on their horse-drawn buggies.
The eight were being held in the Graves County Jail, serving sentences ranging between three and 10 days for failing to pay the fines on religious grounds.
Graves District Judge Deborah Hawkins ordered the men jailed Monday in Mayfield, about 200 miles from Louisville in western Kentucky. The defendants contend that paying the fines would amount to complying with a law that violates their religious restrictions against wearing or displaying bright colors or relying upon man-made symbols for their safety.
Graves County Jailer Randy Haley said Tuesday that the men brought Bibles with them when they reported to jail late Monday night and were given dark-colored jumpsuits and sandals to wear instead of the standard orange coveralls. All were placed together in a large holding cell, Haley said.
The Kentucky Court of Appeals denied an appeal of the men's misdemeanor convictions in June. The case has been appealed to the state Supreme Court, which has not ruled on whether it will hear the case.
Dozens of Amish people and supporters were on hand as Hawkins handed down the sentences, which varied depending on the amount of unpaid fines and court costs. A ninth defendant was ordered to jail initially but the sentence was lifted when a friend paid so the man could care for an ailing son who has cerebral palsy.
All of the defendants are members of a traditional Amish group known as the Old Order of Swartzentruber. Other Amish groups in Kentucky do comply with the requirements to display the safety signs on the rear of their buggies.
"We're certainly disappointed that the judge chose to go forward," the men's lawyer, William Sharp, said in an interview Tuesday. "... We thought it was unnecessary to do so until the cases had been conclusively resolved one way or another by the Kentucky Supreme Court."
Sharp, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union in Louisville, said he filed the appeal with the Supreme Court on June 30. Explaining her decision to go forward with the sentencing, Hawkins said she had 44 cases involving the same charge on her docket Monday.
"It's time we move forward," she said.
(Editing by James Kelleher and Greg McCune)