Federal judge supports hate crime charges against Amish sect leader

A federal judge has rejected a challenge of the federal hate crimes law by Amish sect leader Sam Mullet and 15 followers charged with beard- and hair-cutting assaults in Ohio Amish country last year.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports

U.S. District Judge Dan Polster of Cleveland ruled this week that the indictment against Mr. Mullet, brought by the Justice Department under the 2009 Hate Crimes Prevention Act, does not violate the U.S. Constitution.

Mr. Mullet’s attorney, along with lawyers for the other defendants and the Center for Individual Rights, a nonprofit Washington public interest law firm, said the beard-cutting attacks were not hate crimes because they did not involve an anti-Amish bias but rather a dispute within a religion.

But Judge Polster said the Hate Crimes Prevention Act doesn’t limit acts of violence to conflicts between different religions.


“While hate crimes are often committed by members of one religious [or racial or ethnic] group against another, history is replete with examples of internecine violence,” he wrote. “By the defendants’ logic, a violent assault by a Catholic on a Protestant, or a Sunni Muslim on a Shiite Muslim, or an Orthodox Jew on a non-Orthodox Jew, would not be prohibited by this statute.”

The lawyers had also argued that the hate crimes law as applied in their case violated the defendants’ rights to religious expression under the First Amendment.

The judge said that claim is “particularly offensive” because the Constitution is the very mechanism that allows Mr. Mullet and his followers to maintain religious beliefs and practices “which are so different from the beliefs and practices of most Americans.”

He said the violent acts described in the government’s indictment were “designed to punish” those who were exercising their religious beliefs “or to chill others from doing so.”

He said violence is never protected by the First Amendment. […]

Judge Polster’s ruling was the second legal setback for Mr. Mullet this week. On Tuesday, he ruled that he would not remove language from the indictment, including those sexual allegations, that Mr. Mullet said was included to “smear” his character.

The hate crimes indictment and an earlier FBI search-warrant affidavit say the beard cutting attacks came about because Mullet was angry that other Amish bishops refused to accept his excommunication of members who had chosen to leave his group.

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 previous report details the reasons behind the beard- and hair cutting attacks, and also addresses alleged abuses within Samuel Mullet’s so-called Bergholz Clan.
Read the original indictment and the subsequent, updated indictment

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This post was last updated: May. 9, 2014