March 2, 2014 by gregrabidoux2013
Samuel Mullet Sr., was sentenced to 15 years in prison for shaving off the beards of several of his fellow Amish. He and several elder Amish leaders claim that their “victims” were family members who had “strayed” from the Amish faith. Forcibly shaving off their beards, they believed, was an accepted and necessary step to send a stern but caring message. Change your ways, return to the bosom of the flock and community before it’s too late. Before, you drift into temptation and become a shame and burden to yourself, your family, your fellow Amish.
The Prosecution and Judge of Cincinnati, Ohio disagreed. Mr. Mullet (unfortunate name in a forced hair styling case) and his fellow improvisational “barbers” were charged under the US Federal Hate Crime Statute (18 US Code 249). In part, this criminal law reads;
“anyone who willfully causes bodily injury to any person through the use of fire, firearms, or any dangerous weapon…(or) anyone who attempts to cause bodily injury to anyone because of actual or perceived race, color, religion or national origin…shall be sentenced to not more than 10 years” (if death were the result, the sentence could be for life).
In this case, the prosecution argued that the federal law applied because the scissors and shavers used had crossed state line and federal interstate commerce law could be invoked.
The Judge agreed. Mullet and 16 of his fellow Amish all were convicted of violating this Hate Crime Statute and received sentences ranging from at least one year to 15 years in prison.
Does the crime fit the time?
Let’s look at the letter of the Hate Crime Law.
Q: Did they all “willfully cause bodily injury?”
A: They awoke several fellow Amish male adults in the middle of the night. They told them they had drifted and knew what had to happen. They held them down and cut and shaved their beards off. This was done to figuratively send a “wake up call” and literally, to shame the men. They would no longer (at least for awhile) be able to display their religious and traditional symbols of Amish male membership (their beards).
Q: Did they cause such injury “because of actual or perceived Race, Color (or) Religion?”
A: Seems like religion was certainly a key factor, though the Amish faith is so closely intertwined with a tradition of community and collaboration among all members for survival that it seems unlikely religious belief was the sole factor.
But then again, my knowledge of contemporary Amish life may be distorted by my viewing now and again of the television “reality” show Amish Mafia. On second thought, fully distorted.
But, I do know that the US Supreme Court has in the past shown much respect for the Amish faith. Even when such religious and moral precepts and lifestyle collides head-on with federal law.
In the landmark 1972 case of Wisconsin v Yoder, the Court ruled that the Government could not make attending school compulsory past the 8th grade when it came to the Amish. In its ruling, the Justices showed a distinct and deep appreciation not only for the religious beliefs of the Amish but for the importance of the Amish code or need for uniformity. The Court recognized and upheld their belief that exposing their youth to “corrupting” secular influences could spell disaster for their way of life. A way of life nearly indistinguishable between religious and community values.
But here, despite pleas from the Amish leaders that they did what they did out of love and compassion and concern for their fellow Amish and for the group as a whole, the Court believed their act was indeed a crime borne of hate. And, implemented by dangerous weapons meant to injure.
The clash between religion and secular law reminds me of past cases where church leaders have been convicted of assault when forcibly shaking a member of their flock in order to expel or exorcise a demon within. Even cases where fainting was caused by such dramatic life-altering experiences and the “saved” later sued.
Still. The average prison time in this country for non-statutory rape is 7 years and the average time for murder has reduced over the last 10 years to about 8.5 years. Statutory rape, depending on the state and judicial sentencing discretion, can be as low as 2 years.
So, here we have a case of members of the same religious faith all living, eating, working and praying together 24/7 in the same community. Where, the Court has in the past, acknowledged the need for nearly absolute discipline and uniformity within the group for the survival of its faith and group as a whole.
And one of its leaders, charged with ensuring the religion’s and group’s faith and survival leads an early morning “Operation Beards be Gone” Recon. patrol.
And he gets 15 years in a federal penitentiary.
Look, no way do I want to get awakened in the wee hours of the morning and get a complimentary shave. And I do not doubt the trauma this caused the males who were targeted for such a “message.” But as they conceded, there were no injuries sustained other than the loss of their beards and probably their sense of pride and belonging to a group.
But then that was apparently the religious and community saving motivation of the shaving itself.
I recall reading the biography of legendary hockey player Bobby Orr. Seems when young Bobby was drafted to play for the rough and tumble Boston Bruins his new teammates had concerns. Orr was a sensation to be sure but he was only 17 and “too pretty” for hockey and they didn’t know if he “could cut it” in the big leagues.
So, to be sure, they cut him. Literally. They grabbed him and without the benefit of any shaving cream proceeded to give Bobby a “shave” with a razor. Not a pretty sight anymore.
Bobby recovered though with some minor scars. Badges of honor, he later called them.
Nasty stuff, right?
But then his new teammates now felt he was “one of them.” And they knew he could take whatever opponents dished out because he’d passed “their” test. Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, hey?
And as far as I know, no charges were pressed by either side.
Again, I’m not a proponent of forced anything, but I do wonder about what this and other recent cases (see my blog on teen who kills 4 and gets probation) says about the priorities of our justice system.
Increasingly, I fear that our justice system and I may have different priorities when it comes to crime and punishment.