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Amish threatened by new passport laws

February 7, 2007

We’ve seen stories recently about how new U.S. passport laws have affected travel for our neighbors in the nearby countries of Canada and Mexico. Also, stories about the new rules have chronicled the difficulties of American citizens getting a passport just to travel to one of those countries.

passportNow, imagine if your religion says you can’t get your photo taken for that necessary passport.

That’s a major obstacle, I’d think.

In my employer’s newspaper today, the Lancaster New Era, staff writer Ryan Robinson looks at how the Old Order Amish of Lancaster County are being hindered by the new rules on passport use at the country’s borders.

Why can’t the Amish be photographed? It involves their beliefs about “graven images.” We had to deal with this situation delicately when covering the Nickel Mines school shootings last October. Columbia Journalism Review did a good debate on the photograph issue from the photographers’ perspective of the murders.

One fact I learned by reading today’s article that I didn’t know: Some of the Amish community travel to Mexico for cheaper medical care.

Here’s part of Ryan’s story:

Jonas Stoltzfus wanted to have cervical spine surgery to relieve the extreme pain he suffered as a result of an accident. In the U.S., the operation would cost about $75,000. So the New Holland Amish man had the surgery done in Tijuana, Mexico, for about $20,000.

Many Plain people here travel to Mexico and sometimes Canada for cheaper or alternative health care treatment and medicine.

A new law requiring travelers to carry a passport no matter where they’re going outside the United States will force some Plain people to make a tough choice: Follow their religious directive and not be photographed, or get the medical care they want.    

The area’s representative in Congress said the law will not likely be altered for religious exemptions. The law also affects Muslim women who wear burqas or headscarves — they must be removed for the passport picture.

A local doctor had concerns about the position the Amish community is in. From the article:

Dr. D. Holmes Morton of the Clinic for Special Children outside of Strasburg warned that patients should be cautious about choosing alternative medicines and what sometimes turn out to be illegitimate health clinics in Mexico.

Morton knows that some elderly go outside the U.S. for cheaper knee transplants, and he knows of three children who went to Montreal for surgery related to seizures.

Often, cancer patients who have been told there is nothing more that can be done here go abroad seeking alternatives, he said.

Morton said he thinks some Amish will choose to have a photograph taken, since it already is allowed for some official and medicinal purposes.

“I guess if it comes to pass, we’ll just stay home or follow the law,” said an Amish businessman.

Another Amish man who did not want to be identified said some patients come from Canada to this area for mental health and other treatment, and he said they also will be affected by the new passport requirement.

My question: Is there any way to truly prove who you are without a photo I.D.? Would a retina scan or some sort of biometric info also be against the Amish faith, because it’s an “image” of some sort? Please leave your thoughts in the comments area.

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One Comment
  1. newhoosier permalink
    February 7, 2007 2:11 pm

    I think as long as you are not denying access to medical care, which the US isn’t doing, that this won’t be too big of an issue.

    Like the article said, if pictures are required, it “won’t count” for Amish to have their picture taken for a passport becuase they already allow it in some situations. Or people will not expect to cross the border with ease.

    But, biometric info doesn’t have to be an “image”. I’m sure a finger print and retinal scan would be a great addition to simply photography–or should I say photoshop-ography.

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