The Amish beard cutting case is not a hate crime and should be tossed. Federal prosecutors charged spiritual leader Samuel Mullet and 15 of his followers in his Amish community, with violation of the federal Hate Crimes Protection Act. Federal prosecutors assert that Mullet committed a hate crime by ordering the beard and hair cutting of breakaway members of his sect. Questions have now been raised whether this is the latest example of federal overreach.
Black’s Law Dictionary defines hate crime as a crime motivated by the victim’s race, color, ethnicity, religion, national origin, disability, gender, or sexual orientation. Hate crimes are also referred to as bias-motivated crimes. Hate crimes are generally a prejudiced motivated crime targeting a victim because of their perceived membership in a specific social group. The Hate Crimes Protection Act was named after and implemented in response to the torture and murder of gay student Matthew Shepard, and the murder of African-American James Byrd, Jr. by two white supremacists. Interestingly, all the perpetrators of these crimes received either the death penalty or life imprisonment, without the benefit of hate crime laws.
It is unclear how the Amish beard cutting case fits into a hate or bias-motivated crime. Had the Amish spiritual leader Mullet ordered his sect followers, for example, to target and attack Hasidic Jews and shave their beards, it would clearly be the case of hate or bias-motivated crime. But his ordering the attack and the shaving of hair and beards of breakaway members of his sect, would constitute no more than simple assault and conspiracy to commit simple assault. Possibly a felony, but certainly charges could be brought in county court or possibly state court. These assaults do not belong in federal court, as this Amish beard cutting case is not a hate crime and should be tossed.
Samuel Mullet, Sr. was sentenced to 15 years in federal prison for these alleged violations of the Hate Crime Prevention Act. His attorneys have appealed his conviction and sentence to the United States Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit. His appellate attorneys have asked the 6th Circuit to toss the Amish beard cutting case.
Mullet’s appellate attorneys have vigorously attacked both the prosecution and US District Judge Dan Aaron Polster in their appeal. They argue federal prosecutors overstepped their boundaries in pursuing a case under the Hate Crimes Prevention Act. They argued there was no anti-Amish bias, and that most hate crime victims are complete strangers to the perpetrators. They are targeted solely for the hatred of the victim’s protected status, according to appellate attorneys. They have accused the government of excessive hyperbole and manipulating evidence in their pursuit of spiritual leader Samuel Mullet.
Mullet’s appellate attorney’s have accused US District Court Judge Polster of being “highly prejudicial” in their argument that the Amish beard cutting case is not a hate crime and should be tossed. They criticized the trial judge’s decision to allow testimony concerning Mullet’s personal sexual life. They argued that Mullet’s sexual practices were irrelevant and highly prejudicial to the jurors. Appellate attorneys were also highly critical of the judge’s jury instructions. They claimed the judge tailored the jury instructions to this particular case, instead of instructing the jury on the statute. US District Judge Polster was a long time government attorney prior to his appointment to the bench in 1997, by then President Clinton. He was an attorney for the anti-trust division of the Justice department from 1976 to 1982 and an assistant US Attorney from 1982 to 1998 in the Northern District of Ohio.
The Amish communities in the United States today stand as a monument to this nation’s long-term commitment to religious freedom and intolerance of the persecution of religious minorities. The Amish and other similar Anabaptists were the subject of hundreds of years of bloody persecution and intolerance in Europe. They finally found freedom in the United States to pursue their religious beliefs. Today, there are in fact, no Amish left in Europe.
The overreach by the government, in their questionable interpretation of a statute, and their carefully orchestrated manipulation of evidence, combined with a collaboration of “friendly” media, have all the undertones of possible being a persecution of Mullet and his followers. This case should belong only in local or state jurisdictions, and not the federal government. The Amish beard cutting case is certainly not a hate crime and should be tossed.
Opinion by John J. Poltonowicz