Amish beard cutting cult attacked ‘out of compassion’

Religion News Briefs is a collection of links and blurbs highlighting religion news, cult stories — and anything else we think you might like. May include a dash of opinion and perhaps a touch of humor. Comes with links to the original sources plus additional research resources.

Lawyers for 16 Amish men and women on trial for attacking fellow Amish and forcibly cutting their hair and beards say their clients acted “out of compassion — trying, with admittedly misguided methods, to help them repent and see the true Amish way.”

Each of the defendants, including the group’s leader Samuel Mullet, has his or her own court-appointed lawyer.

The New York Times says

this trial is not for simple assault, and nearly all of the lawyers, in opening statements on Tuesday, hammered away at two things the prosecution must show to justify the unusual federal hate crime charges, which are being presented in Federal District Court here and could result in prison terms of 20 years or more for some of the defendants.

First, under the law, the defendants must have acted with intent to cause bodily injury, which can include, the prosecutors noted, the bruising, cuts and pain that several victims experienced as well as disfigurement of beards and hair.

Some defense lawyers questioned whether the assaults were intended to cause physical harm.

“Is cutting the hair willfully causing bodily injury?” one of them asked.

Second, to fall under the federal law, the attacks must be shown to have been motivated by religious differences or prejudice.

The paper also says that

Many Amish in eastern Ohio, including the victims in this case, had questioned Mr. Mullet’s unorthodox methods, calling him a domineering cult leader who used corporal punishment and sexual “counseling” of women to control his flock. Defense lawyers said on Tuesday, however, that residents, including several of the defendants, had voluntarily cut their own beards or spent weeks living in a chicken coop out of a desire to repent for impure thoughts, and had not been forced to do so by Mr. Mullet.

Last week a judge ruled that prosecutors will be allowed to question witnesses about Amish leader Sam Mullet’s sexual activities.

But the judge forbid them from describing the group with words such cult, sect, clan, band, schism, faction, off-shoot, breakaway, renegade, rogue or splinter group.

Amish Man Details Ohio Hair-Cutting Attack on Dad

This 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 FBI’s Affidavit, the original indictment and the subsequent, updated indictment

Here’s the kind of headline that has us reaching for our ‘Only in America‘ file: Though ‘assault weapons’ may be legal, clergy say they’re not for everyone

Scientology watchers will want to read The Decline of Scientology PDF file, by cult expert Stephen Kent Ph. D. (Department of Sociology, University of Alberta). It is a chapter in Dialog in Konfrontation . . . und die Wahrheit wird euch frei machen, published by Jenaer Akademische Verlagsgesellschaft.

Most of the articles in the paperback are in German, except for the one by Kent, and another chapter by Russian cult exeprt Prof. Alexander Dvorkin: The Story of my Friend Pastor Thomas Gandow’s Involvement with Russia.

The Raelians held their “National Go-Topless Day” in 30 U.S. cities and 10 around the world last Sunday.

Reuters covered the New York event, saying

The annual Go-Topless Day was established in 2007 by a former sports car journalist called Rael, who founded a religion called the Raelian Movement after he said he was visited by a space alien in a French volcano park who told him life on Earth was created by extraterrestrial scientists, according to an account on his website.

Occasional references to alien creators did not seem to register with the crowd, which focused mostly on the breasts.

The UFO cult is quite skilled at generating free publicity:

In 2002 a company linked to the group claimed to have produced the world’s first cloned baby.

It is trying to rehabilitate the reputation of the Swastika, has sued the pope, and — through a non-profit organization called Clitoraid — is fighting female genital mutilation, an admittedly worthwhile project that includes providing reconstructive surgery.

In 2005 and 2006 two vocal critics of the movement infiltrated the organization and told news media they saw people recruited through sex and that acts of pedophilia took place at a Raelian seminar.

But in 2011 a U.S. Federal Court ruled the two had fabricated stories about the movement, and awarded undisclosed damages to the Raelians, including the return of film footage.

In June, 2011, two former members of Tony Alamo Christian Ministries were awarded $33 million each after they sued Alamo for ordering them to be beaten.

The two men testified that Alamo ordered his enforcer, John Erwin Kolbeck, to beat them.

In October 2009 they were each were awarded $1.5 million from Kolbeck after he failed to respond to their lawsuit. Kolbeck died in January, 2011, of a heart attack while on the run from law enforcement.

If you think Tony Alamo’s Christian Ministries doesn’t sound very ‘Christian’ you’re right. The Southern Poverty Law Center considers it to be a hate group.

Others state that the religious group — which among other things specializes in publishing offbeat conspiracy theories — is a cult — both sociologically and theologically.

Meanwhile Alamo is serving a 175-year sentence in federal prison for taking girls as young as 9 across state lines to have sex with them.

The Associated Press now reports that

A federal appeals court on Tuesday ordered punitive damages against an evangelist who ordered two boys to be beaten to be reduced from $60 million to $24 million.

The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld an additional $3 million award each for the two men, now in their 20s, who grew up in Tony Alamo’s ministries. […]

“Despite the exceptionally reprehensible nature of Alamo’s conduct, it would be unconstitutional to let the punitive damages – and their 10:1 ratio to compensatory damages – stand,” Judge Duane Benton wrote in an opinion for a three-judge panel.

Whether and when the two men can collect their money is not clear. Alamo reportedly took property out of his name after he was convicted of tax evasion, and various courts will have to untangle the financial mess of him and his ‘church.’

Retired archbishop Desmond Tutu, who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 for his campaigning against apartheid, has withdrawn from The Discovery Invest Leadership Summit because he found the former prime minister’s support for the invasion of Iraq to be “morally indefensible.”

Like former U.S. President George Bush, Blair claims to be a Christian. Both have evoked God to justify their ‘war on terror,’ including their invasion of Iraq.

Here’s a surprising and welcome report, published in the Sydney Morning Herald:

Islamic leaders in Pakistan have come out in support of a Christian girl with learning difficulties who is being held in prison, in an unprecedented public denunciation of the blasphemy law by hardline mullahs.

The All Pakistan Ulema Council, an umbrella group of Muslim clerics and scholars, which includes representatives from fundamentalist groups, joined hands with the Pakistan Interfaith League, which includes Christians, Sikhs and other religions, to call for justice for the girl, Rimsha, who is accused of blasphemy. They demanded that those making false allegations be punished.

The chairman of the Ulema Council, Tahir Ashrafi, warned that the ”law of the jungle” was gripping Pakistan, with police routinely pressured by baying mobs to register blasphemy charges, as happened in the case of Rimsha, which has made headlines around the world.

Pakistan’s so-called blasphemy laws have been widely condemned in large part because they have been used as a tool for the persecution of religious minorities in Pakistan.

In addition, false accusations of blasphemy are often used by Muslims in disputes not only with Christians and followers of other faiths, but also with fellow Muslims.

On many occasions violent mobs of Muslims have taken justice in their own hands by killing or otherwise harming those why have been accused of blasphemy.

Reader J.R. sent us a link to a story we missed: For Romney, no coffee but coffee ice cream OK

For more on Mormonism vs. Coffee, see this delightful, Christian-operated blog: Mormon Coffee — it’s forbidden but it’s good!

And then there’s this, from the archives: Mormons mourn Postum’s passing


Religion News Blog (RNB) provides an almost-daily selection of religion news — selected by religion- and cult experts.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Wednesday August 29, 2012.
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