Thursday, October 23, 2003

Amish Child Labor

I enjoyed this NY Times story on the effort by the Amish to get an exemption from child labor laws:
Over the din of a buzzing band saw, the Amish furniture maker complained that Uncle Sam was out to get owners of woodworking shops like his simply for trying to teach Amish youths a trade.

The Amish just want to be let alone, he said, but the federal government is meddling in their lives and livelihoods by fining Amish sawmills and woodworking shops that employ teenagers, in violation of child labor law.

"What are we supposed to do with them if they don't work here, have them stay on the street all day?" said the furniture maker, who insisted on anonymity. "I see what other teenagers do when I'm installing kitchens in people's homes. I see kids watching TV. They don't know what to do with themselves. Shouldn't they be occupied doing something worthwhile?"

Federal law has long barred children under 18 from working in sawmills and woodworking factories, because they are so dangerous. The Amish have upset opponents of child labor by pushing Congress for an exemption based largely on religious grounds.
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"If we couldn't put our boys to work and they didn't do nothing until they were 18, they'd be absolutely worthless," he said. "We want them to be obedient and to learn a trade. If they don't, they'll be out and getting into mischief. Next thing you know, you'll have a bunch of them getting into dope and drinking and partying."

"Our kids don't do that," he said. "If you have a boy that goes to work, he feels tired and he don't want to go out howling around all night."
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There's a famous Supreme Court case called Wisconsin v. Yoder, in which the Supreme Court held that the Constitution's protection of free exercise of religion required that the Amish be exempted from school attendance laws. My con law professor, Richard Parker, clerked for Justice Potter Stewart during the term that Yoder was decided. During the classroom discussion of this case, Parker said, "Justice Stewart told me that he was voting for the Amish because they were cute."


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