Amish farmers attempts to prevent RFID tags being used in cattle have been attacked by the US Department of Agriculture on the grounds that it's not mandatory, and therefore can't be considered a breach of religious rights.
The USDA has recommended the dismissal of the case, Wired reports, and points out that the plan for tagging cattle is voluntary. Small farmers were expected to be excluded, so, argues the submission (pdf), there can be no imposition on the religious beliefs of the Amish.
There are seven named plaintiffs in the case (pdf), each of whom "believes that God and the Bible authorize him with dominion over all animals on the planet and prohibit him from taking the 'mark'". All except one: Andrew Schneider apparently doesn't share these beliefs, but is still one of the seven for reasons that aren't clear.
The Amish claim that despite their ability to opt out of the scheme its very existence threatens their religious beliefs as it is part of an ongoing attempt to number every living thing - they point out that the long term aim of the project is 100 per cent participation, so what's voluntary now may become mandatory in the future.
They also argue that tagging every farm animal for the sake of disease control is pointless when the diseases are spread by wild animals that have proved remarkably reluctant to be RFID tagged. The action is being taken at a state level, against the Michigan authorities who are implementing the plan, with the claim that the state is operating as a "puppet" of the USDA.
In response the USDA points out that farmers, including Amish ones, are already using numbered metal studs to track animals and that their approach is technology neutral: "The USDA encourages the use of RFID tags for livestock, as recommended by the cattle working group, the USDA does not require the use of such tags for animal identification."
Civil liberties are often eroded under the premise of being "optional", leaving activists with less grounds for a fight once the impositions are quietly made mandatory years later.
The UK government attempted to introduce ID cards that way, serving to demonstrate what happens if no one takes on the "option". It's hard to see how replacing a metal tag with a radio one can be a religious offence, but the same could be said for most things proscribed by the various theological creeds. ®