When the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance decided to require all sales-tax returns to be filed electronically, no one checked first with the Amish of the upstate counties of Jefferson, Lewis, and St. Lawrence.
"While those without access to Internet can request an exemption, something got lost in translation," writes Brian Amaral of the Watertown Daily Times. "According to interviews with members of the community and those who interact with them, a handful of Amish -- furniture builders and shopkeepers, mostly -- have received letters warning them that they face a $50 penalty for every return not electronically filed."
Department spokeswoman Susan Burns said in an email to Amaral that "the department is mandating the electronic filing to cut down on bank processing costs and to reduce errors in sales tax returns" and "the department would be 'judicious' in levying fines against the Amish."
"Our expectation was that businesses with concerns about complying would call the Taxpayer Contact Center," she wrote. "According to the TCC, if someone called and indicated that they did not have a computer or broadband and they did not use a preparer, they were advised that they were not mandated to comply. This would most likely have covered the Amish."
Right, so, uh...what say you gals fire up the modem
and download the latest version of TurboTax?
So, how did this all happen?
Karen Johnson-Weiner, a SUNY Potsdam anthropology professor who has studied the Amish, says, "People drawing up the procedures just never thought about" the Amish living in the area.
The Amish community has dealt with similar issues before.
In 2008, a group of Amish farmers in Michigan sued the USDA and the Michigan Department of Agriculture over the National Animal Identification System, an electronic RFID tracking initiative with the purpose of reducing disease in livestock.
Well, this didn't go over too smoothly with plaintiffs Joe Golimbieski, Robert Keyworth, Glen Mast, Andrew Schneider, and Roseanne Wyant.
Court papers attested that Golimbeski, Keyworth, et al maintained religious beliefs that forbade the "use of a numbering system for their premises and/or an electronic numbering system for their animals" because this constituted "some form of a 'mark of the beast' and/or represents an infringement of their 'dominion over cattle and all living things' in violation of their fundamental religious beliefs."
In July of 2009, a federal court ruled in favor of the State of Michigan and the USDA, deciding that, while the Amish's beasts must be numbered, branding, tattooing, or non-electric tagging were acceptable alternatives to RFID chips.