The Amish are a mysterious people that not a lot of outsiders understand. Their lifestyle and belief systems are discussed, and their motivations guessed at, but most of what is thought of them is just pure conjecture. The lack of insider knowledge basically just keeps others guessing.
Do Amish pay taxes? Contrary to popular belief, Amish individuals pay most of the same taxes that non-Amish Americans do. This includes federal and state income taxes, property taxes, sales taxes, and public-school taxes. Their only exemption being Social Security or Medicare, and some consumption-based taxes.
Who are the Amish?
The Amish are a group synonymous with the Pennsylvania countryside, known for their conservative dress, lack of electricity and horse drawn buggies; but there is much more to this group than the outside world understands.
The Amish community was originally part of the Mennonites, which were formed in Switzerland in 1529.
In 1693, the group split, becoming two different organizations: the Amish and the Mennonites. The Amish branch followed the teachings of Jacob Ammann, an original Mennonite from Switzerland.
The Amish eventually migrated to the United States due to religious differences with the Mennonite church in the 17 and 1800s. Once here, they sought the religious freedoms they were not given in Switzerland and began creating communities very like the ones that we see now.
The Amish people originally settled in Pennsylvania- where the largest communities still presently remain, with smaller factions moving west to Ohio and Indiana. Currently, there are 31 states that have Amish communities within their borders, with the largest sect still remaining in Pennsylvania. The Amish population has grown from 5000 individuals in the early 1900’s to the most recent count in 2017 being over 318,000.
The Amish are a proud and private people whose first language is Pennsylvania German. Their distinctive clothing and humble lifestyles make them somewhat of an enigma in a society that is so enamored with technology.
The Amish, who conclude their formal education at the 8th grade, shun technology and the conveniences most of us embrace in modern society. Homes do not contain electricity or telephones. They do not own motorized vehicles, with the iconic horse and buggy being their main form of transportation.
Amish individuals are usually easy to spot because of their similar appearance. The men normally have beards with no mustaches. They also wear buttoned pants- not even using zippers in their clothing. Women use straight pins to fasten their clothing, which normally includes a black or white headscarf and plain dresses that fall midway between their knees and ankles. Many times, those in the group wear dark or black clothing.
Why the Simple Life?
Amish feel that bringing electricity into their homes through wires equates to connecting them to the outside world. They utilize a scriptural basis in Romans 12:2:
2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
To avoid conforming to the world, Amish leaders agreed in 1919 that connecting power to Amish homes would not be in the best interest of the community. They did not feel like electricity was evil, but the ease of access could lead men into temptation and allow the church and family to deteriorate as a result.
It would be very simple for the Amish community to access and utilize technology. They choose, instead, to deliberately separate themselves from the world in an act of self-denial. They live with simplicity over comfort, leisure or convenience. Through this, they maintain a separation from the outside world and are able to bond as a community without the outside influence. This self-sufficiency is as a community, not individually, as the entire community comes together to live life reliant upon each other.
James 1:27 KJV
27 Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.
This particular verse means a lot to the Amish. Not only does it remind us to take care of the orphans and widows- those who need us, as a community, to step in and take care of them… it also reminds us to keep oneself unspotted from the world. Another version says …to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
The Amish community looks at this verse in reference to technology as the pollutants. They keep themselves from these “worldly” things- wearing makeup, watching TV, using motorized farm equipment and even having phones – in an effort not to pollute themselves or the community with worldly ideology.
Within each community there is a Bishop who is the leader of that specific “district”. The bishop sets and enforces the rules for each district, and some are more lenient than others when it comes to minor conveniences. Districts do not have church buildings, but services each Sunday rotate between homes. They do have formal schooling and normally one-room schoolhouses. Schooling normally lasts until a child reaches the age of 15. Education for Amish children goes well beyond lessons taught in school.
Teenagers are given the option of staying in the Amish community and are allowed to venture out into the secular world. This has been showcased in television shows and documentaries. Many of the youths spend time outside of the community, but eventually come to rejoin their family units. Those who make the decision to stay outside of the community are often cut off from their families.
The Amish bear some resemblance to the traditional Jewish communities in that they live by the Old Testament Laws. Those who do not keep within the laws can be shunned or excommunicated. This includes those who become involved in “worldly” activities. They are a very private people, with outsiders being welcomed in only on certain occasions.
The Amish people practice what is called a works-based relationship with God. They believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and that He died for their sins. They also believe that He is the only way to achieve salvation. However, they view their lives as a way to earn favor with God. Their attitude is if their good works outweigh the bad, God will welcome them into heaven. Their Christian based teachings promote good works towards the fellow man and the community.
Members of the Amish community deem themselves not as a
religious group- but state that they live a certain lifestyle that allows them
to focus on their home and families as opposed to secular happenings. They feel
that a person can lose their salvation if they stray from the path that God has
set forth for them. It is their belief that separating themselves from the
outside world helps to keep them on that path and away from sin.
What Taxes are paid by the Amish Community?
Obviously, the Amish do not fully agree with the actions of the government and have their own form of government within the districts. However, they are respectful of state and national laws. This includes paying their taxes. However, there are some taxes that- due to their lifestyle- that they are not responsible for. This is done with government allowances and approval.
Most of the Amish are self-employed; working on their farms or within their community. Those individuals DO NOT pay Social Security taxes. However, those who are employed by non-Amish employers are required to pay this tax.
Because of the self-sufficient attitude of the Amish, they do not collect Social Security, Unemployment, or any type of welfare. As a result, they are not required to pay these funds.
The Social Security Act actually contains a sub-section that allows those who are members of a religious body that is opposed to social security benefits and, instead, makes reasonable provisions for the elderly and dependent within their community to avoid these taxes.
Amish elders do not go into retirement homes but stay within the homes with their own families- with the remaining community members assisting them if needed. These circumstances allow the group to apply for exemption from the self-employment tax. This means that not only do they not have to pay Social Security, they are also signing away their rights to receive those benefits in the future. Basically, they do not pay or receive these benefits.
Because the Amish takes care of their own, some states even give them an exemption from participating in Worker’s Compensation programs if hiring Amish workers. In the instances of injuries or illness, the community steps in to take care of the worker as well as their family. These ideals are scriptural based:
1 Timothy 5:8 King James Version (KJV) : 8 But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.
1 Timothy 5:8 New International Version (NIV): 8 Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.
These sentiments resonate throughout the Amish community. They also believe that the purchase and expenditure of insurance is a sign that you lack faith in God. So, when a crisis strikes, the community comes together to help members pay medical bills, rebuild homes, replace items, etc. If a large bill is accrued, individuals present this bill in their church ceremony and the congregation donates- with no one leaving the ceremony until the expense is covered. In this way, they are, once again, providing for their own without assistance from the government or outside entities. They also have exemptions from the new Health Care Laws.
The Amish pay their federal and state income taxes, doing their taxes themselves or hiring an accountant to do so. Larger Amish communities normally have accountants and bookkeepers who assist their members within the communities.
Other taxes that the Amish pay include property taxes on property owned individually or as a group and sales taxes on purchases made. Property taxes can be lofty sums as most Amish individuals own large tracts of land with sizeable houses due to having big families and even having extended family members in residence.
Even though Amish children are educated through privately run and funded Amish schools, they still pay a public-school tax as well.
Amish children finish school at 15yrs of age, or at the conclusion of their 8th grade year. In 1972, in a landmark case, Amish communities won this right with the government not being allowed to compel Amish children to attend school after this point as it, “gravely endangers… the free exercise” of the Amish beliefs. Once school is completed, they may file their first tax return.
Even though the Amish begin filing taxes at around 15 yrs of age, many do not have social security numbers. Without a number, they can still file as a secondary taxpayer or be claimed on another person’s return. When they file, they do not seek out credits such as the Earned Income Credit or Additional Tax Credit, just filing a standard return utilizing Child Tax Credits per child.
Filing taxes can be difficult for the Amish for a multitude of reasons. Not only do many of the Amish not have social security numbers, they also do not allow photography, meaning they do not have picture IDs. This makes identification very difficult. Because they do not have vehicles and live in very rural areas, and also have no phones, contact can be next to impossible. Areas with larger Amish populations are used to these issues and have developed ways to ensure that these items are handled in a timely and respectful manner. However, for areas where smaller pockets exist, the difficulty increases.
Though it may be difficult for them to complete their taxes, the Amish are respectful of the laws set forth by the outside government and have, therefore, created ways within their group to complete these tasks as necessary.
There are many taxes that are instituted by governments and tacked onto items that are consumed for the purpose of assisting communities in one area or another. Many of these taxes are not paid by the Amish basically because they do not consume these products.
One of the largest taxed consumables is gasoline. Because horse and buggies are the main mode of transportation for these individuals, they do not utilize gasoline and, therefore, do not pay gas taxes.
Gas taxes include federal monies that go to highway and road projects, as well as other community development projects. In some areas, to combat the fact that the Amish do utilize the roadways- they are required to obtain license plates for their buggies as a way of not only registering their vehicles, but also paying their portion of these fees.
The Amish do grow and cultivate tobacco, as well as sell the tobacco that they grow. Though smoking is prohibited in some sects, in others the Amish do smoke and chew tobacco- but since they grow it, they do not pay taxes for the consumption of it.
Other consumption taxes not paid by the Amish are for alcohol and gambling winnings. Amish do not consume alcohol, nor do they gamble in gaming establishments. In the same vein, the Amish do not utilize hotels, and therefore do not pay bed taxes which benefit certain areas in addition to standard sales taxes.
Though the Amish are somewhat of a mystery and live what many would call, “off the grid”, they are still honest and hardworking individuals who abide by the laws set forth by the government. Along those lines, Amish individuals pay the taxes that they are required to pay per government mandates. The government does make exceptions based on their religious beliefs as well as their actual consumption and ability to take care of their community members without assistance.
So, while we may not understand everything that there is to know about the Amish people, we can honestly say that, yes, they do pay their taxes.
If you are interested in learning about other Religions in the world, then check out this book on World’s Religions on Amazon.