- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 22, 2004

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — More than 50 members of Congress want the UPN television network to drop plans for a reality-format series featuring Amish teenagers testing their faith in the big city.

“The mentality reminds me of the old sideshows in the circus,” Rep. Joe Pitts, Pennsylvania Republican, said Friday. “And it is wrong to do this to a minority group like the Amish.”

Members of the sect, which is concentrated in rural Pennsylvania, Indiana and Ohio, are known for dressing simply and shunning most technology. But when Amish children reach 16 they’re allowed to break free of their strict code before deciding whether they want to be baptized as adults.

During the period of “rumspringa,” a Pennsylvania Dutch term that means “running around,” the teens often date, drink, drive cars and move away from home. Most then return to the faith.

When Leslie Moonves, the chairman of CBS who also oversees UPN, spoke about the show last month, the setting he had in mind was Los Angeles.

“To have people who don’t have television walk down Rodeo Drive and be freaked out by what they see, I think will be interesting television,” he said. “It will not be denigrating to the Amish.”

Mr. Pitts, who represents southern Pennsylvania’s Amish countryside, said he tried but failed earlier this month to sway Mr. Moonves.

“Basically we said to them that we viewed this as exploitative in nature,” Mr. Pitts said. “Putting on young Amish teens who are in a very vulnerable period of their lives.”

A spokeswoman for UPN declined to answer questions, but released a brief statement in response to the lawmakers.

“UPN and the show’s producers have every intention of treating the Amish, their beliefs and their heritage with the utmost respect and decency,” it said.

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