Because their religion forbids wearing flashy clothes, the Amish are asking for permission to wear red when hunting instead of the required fluorescent orange. LD 426, introduced by Representative McCrea of Fort Fairfield, resulted in an interesting public hearing last week. Rep. McCrea presented a good case for his bill, and three young Amish men testified too.
Rep. McCrea said the bill is of great importance to the Amish community in his hometown of Fort Fairfield, and in Easton, Sherman, and Whitefield (just 10 miles from Augusta). He explained the simple Amish lifestyle and said “their nature is that of a people that wishes not to draw attention to individual members.” They don’t even like to be photographed. But they do hunt, and are willing to wear red, “despite the fact that it is not at all a favorite color.”
We did learn that some Amish communities, possibly including the one in Whitefield, do not object to wearing orange. And when I googled Amish hunters online, I found lots of photos of Amish hunters wearing orange.
McCrea handed out a copy of the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” passed by Congress in 1993, suggesting that Maine’s orange requirement is a violation of that act. McCrea also handed out written testimony in favor of the bill from IFW Advisory Council member Dick Fortier of Caribou.
Three Amish young men emphasized that they would have to refuse to pay fines if summonsed for not wearing hunter orange, and warned that failure to give them this exception “will almost certainly lead to a legal battle between the State of Maine and our church group.”
IFW Committee member Rep. Denise Harlow asked if they’d be willing to limit the wearing of red to their own land, but they reported that they also hunt on the land of others.
I was quite surprised when DIF&W Deputy Commissioner Tim Peabody testified in favor of the bill. “The department supports LD 426 as it provides visibility for a hunter and a choice for persons who have a religious opposition to wearing orange.” In response to a concern of some IFW Committee members about kids wearing red instead of orange, Tim said that would be up to the parents.
Don Kleiner of the Maine Professional Guides Association opposed the bill, noting that partly thanks to hunter orange, hunting is now “safer than downhill skiing.” He actually told a story about being shot by a hunter he was guiding. And Don did say, while he sympathized with the Amish and respected DIF&W’s support of the bill, “We need to be cautious. I don’t think red is enough.”
Jeff Zimba, a master Maine guide, testified “neither for nor against” but said, “I’d have a problem taking them into the woods in red.”
This bill is not yet scheduled for a work session, but when it is, the discussion should be interesting.