Most of those testifying looked slightly uncomfortable and out of place; the attorneys bickered over procedure; and in the end, there was no ruling at Thursday’s administrative hearing by the Kentucky Human Rights Commission about alleged discrimination by an Amish store owner against a former member of the religious sect.

Ruth Irene Garrett, who left the Amish faith and has written three books in which she describes Amish life and her personal experiences, and her husband, Ottie Garrett, filed a complaint with the HRC alleging she was refused service by Irma Troyer in Troyer’s Rocky Top Salvage Store two years ago.

Troyer contends she did not refuse service to Garrett but declined to accept Garrett’s payment in accordance with Amish precepts prohibiting her from doing business with someone who has been excommunicated from the Amish Church. Doing so, Troyer and her bishop, David Miller, said would potentially expose Troyer to the same punishment of excommunication and conceivably risk her soul, according to their religious teachings.

HRC Commissioner Deborah Kent, an attorney who served as hearing officer, said after the day-long series of mostly Amish witnesses that she will issue a report to the full commission after reading briefs and proposed findings submitted by attorneys for both sides. The full commission will then issue a ruling which Kent said could be months away.

The precipitating incident occurred on Oct. 15, 2003 when Garrett, who lives more than 40 miles away on Finney Road in Barren County, attempted to purchase items at Troyer’s store in Cub Run in rural Hart County. As she approached the counter, she asked to whom to make the check and Troyer asked is she were Irene Garrett. (Troyer said she recognized Garrett from photos in her published books.)

When Garrett said yes, she was Irene Garrett, Troyer said Garrett, as a former member of the Amish Church, knew Troyer could not accept her money because Garrett had been excommunicated from the church. Troyer suggested Ottie Garrett sign the check or Garrett’s cousin who was with her pay for the items.

Garrett declined and Troyer offered to give Garrett the items, but Garrett objected and testified Thursday that she “wanted to pay for my groceries and be treated just like everyone else.”

Neither side disputed the underlying facts Thursday. Johnny Bell, Troyer’s attorney, argued Troyer had a constitutional right to act as she did. He said Troyer didn’t discriminate against Garrett on the basis of Garrett’s religion, but acted on her own deeply held religious faith.

“This is really a federal question,” Bell said. “It’s about whether or not Mrs. Troyer is being prevented from exercising her religion and the Human Rights Commission does not have jurisdiction.”

HRC staff attorney, Emily Hartlage, responded that Troyer operates a public business “which is governed by laws which don’t affect individuals. It’s a business open to the public and it is governed by the Kentucky Civil Rights Act.”

Garrett, a native of Iowa, testified she was humiliated by the incident and had received letters from the Amish community in Kentucky and Iowa, including from her father, a conservative Amish minister still living in Iowa. Hartlage said Garrett suffered “humiliation, embarrassment, and emotional distress” as a result of the incident and seeks injuctive relief to shop at Troyer’s store, civil rights training for Troyer, and monetary damages to be determined by the commission.

Kent said during the hearing her decision will be based on two questions: liability by Troyer and damages to Garrett. Bell, however, continued to pursue a religious freedom defense.

Reach RONNIE ELLIS at or (270) 678-5171.


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