Amish beard cutting clan challenges constitutionality of U.S. hate crimes law

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Religion News Blog — Twelve members of a break-away Amish clan charged with hate crimes in beard-cutting attacks on mainstream Amish in Ohio will close ranks and challenge the constitutionality of the federal hate crimes law, a member of the defense team said Monday.

According to the Associated Press

J. Dean Carro, a University of Akron law professor who filed a challenge on behalf of the alleged ringleader and one of his sons, said all defendants would challenge the law and try to have the indictment dismissed.

The judge extended Monday’s deadline for prosecutors to respond until April 16.

The challenges, including one filed electronically Sunday night, said the alleged attacks are not hate crimes but internal church disciplinary matters not involving anti-Amish bias.

Last October sect leader Samuel Mullet told The Associated Press that he did not order the hair-cutting attacks but that he also did not stop his sons and others from carrying them out. He said the goal of the hair-cutting was to send a message to Amish that they should be ashamed of themselves for the way they were treating him and his community.


The Associated Press noted that cutting the hair is a highly offensive act to the Amish, who believe the Bible instructs women to let their hair grow long and men to grow beards and stop shaving once they marry.

A former member of Mullet’s group says Mullet moved with some 120 fellow Amish to Bergholz, Ohio, some 15 years ago.

He has compared the group, sometimes referred to in the media as the Bergholz clan, to the Peoples Temple cult.

REASON BEHIND THE BEARD-CUTTING ATTACKS
According to an FBI affidavit sometime around 2005 about eight families left Mullet’s clan.

In response, Mullet excommunicated them. Excommunication bars an Amish member from having any religious affiliation without the blessing of the excommunicating Bishop. Other Amish communities are not permitted to accept an excommunicated person into their communities.

But, says the affidavit, for an excommunication to be Biblical it must be based on the teachings of the Amish faith and cannot be based on revenge or punishment.

When other Amish bishops learned of Mullet’s excommunications, they convened a meeting of some 300 Amish church leaders. At this meeting a committee of seven Amish Bishops was selected to determine whether the excommunications were consistent with Amish teachings and scripture.

The committee determined that Samuel Mullet’s excommunications were indeed based on his decision to seek revenge and punish the departing families. The committee therefore overturned the excommunications, permitting the families to join other Amish communities.

At least one of the victims of the hair- and bear cutting attacks was told by someone who allegedly participated in the assault that it was due to him having been one of seven Bishops on the investigating committee.

November, 2011 report by Al Jazeera

ABUSE IN THE BERGHOLZ CLAN

The FBI Affidavit also quotes two witnesses, both former members of the Bergholz Clan, who state that Samuel Mullet, Sr. controls all aspects of the lives of Bergholz clan members.

No decisions are made — and no visitors are permitted — without his permission. Too, the witnesses claim, in disregard for Amish teachings and scripture Mullet has forced extreme punishments and physical injury to those in the community who defy him.

They say Mullet has forced members to sleep in a chicken coop for days, and has allowed members of the clan to beat other members who disobeyed him.

The former members also say Mullet has been “counseling” married women in his clan, taking them into his home “so that he may cleanse them of the devil with acts of sexual intimacy.”

Such behavior is, of course, contrary to scripture and to Amish teachings, and explains why some refer to the Bergholz Clan as a cult.

Both witnesses say they left the clan because they could no longer continue to live under Mullet’s control.

MOTION TO DISMISS THE INDICTMENT

Mullet and his small group of followers — whose compound was raided by authorities last November — also face charges of conspiracy, assault and tampering with evidence in the case, the Department of Justice has said.

The Associated Press says the motion to dismiss the indictment states that the “actions alleged in this case are not alleged to be the result of anti-Amish bias.”

But given what is known thus far, the notion that the acts committed by Mullet’s clan members could somehow be construed as merely a matter of internal church discipline will likely not find much support.

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This post was last updated: Sep. 12, 2012