Amish Leader Cuts Beard of Fellow Amish-Gets 15 Years in Jail. No, Really.


March 2, 2014 by gregrabidoux2013

Amish man with kids

Some day, all this and a fine beard will all be yours kids.

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.

Amish uniformity

No, not a Ralph Lauren Polo Ad. Uniformity in fashion is key to Amish survival though.

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.

Amish Mafia

Real or “Reality” Amish Life?

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.

Amish women at beach

No corrupting influence of beach bikini-wear to worry about here. And no bothersome tan lines.

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.


Hate me all you want but shake me too forcibly and I’ll sue you.

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.



19 thoughts on “Amish Leader Cuts Beard of Fellow Amish-Gets 15 Years in Jail. No, Really.

  1. Paula M says:

    Some penalty is needed. A Hate crime? Among all the same Amish, for cutting a beard off. 15 years? As the post points out our priorities seem screwed up.

  2. Jon Musselwhite says:

    15 years seems like a long time just to shave to someone beard off. Nothing happened to the people so i don’t see why he got that much time. I understand that it is a hate crime. There have been people who done a whole lot worse and got less time.

  3. zbsaxon says:

    Hate Crime? Absolutely not, maybe borderline hazing but there was no “bodily harm” done. Lacking facial hair implies not health complications. If they are able to bypass so many other laws due to their religion, (education, etc) then I am not sure why the court would make such a ruling unless they were trying to make a point. Which point that might be, I have no idea. Our priorities are definitely skewed.

  4. Sharriette F says:

    How did the courts become involved in this matter? Did the young men press charges? Since they understood they were operating outside of the precepts of their Amish faith, I doubt they would have involved the authorities. This is a case of a court system committing a hate crime on the Amish faith. They are trying to send a clear message against the disciplinary style within the Amish community. No one was harmed. No one was negatively impacted. Hair grows back. Though it goes against their beliefs, these Amish Elders need to get some real legal help. This should not have gotten this far.

  5. Natalia H says:

    i honestly think it’s not that serious to get 15 years for. I mean honestly what’s the sense of charging him 15 years when there are murders getting only 6 these days. Its almost the same as charging someone life for deal crack or drugs, but then the rapist gets charged 3 years. Personally i rather have the drug dealer than the rapist but hey that’s just me. Same goes for this. How is it a hate crime when nothing was done “hateful”. they didn’t kill their daughters and say oh you better get back in line. They simply cut their beards off. Hair grows back. I think the court has their priorities a little mixed up.

  6. Wade M says:

    It seems obvious to me that charges were pressed and I feel that some punishment is in order. I do think that 15 years is pretty extreme. In all due respect to the Amish faith, I don’t feel that they can hold someone against their will and do what was done even though we are talking about shaving their beards. It reminds me of hazing in a fraternity that ends up putting them on probation with the college or university.

  7. Taranesha says:

    Since the US Supreme Court showed obvious respect for the Amish faith in the 1972 case Wisconsin v Yoder , I don’t understand the difference now in 2014. Sentencing someone to 15 years is huge. Most murderers on the hit show Lockup:Raw are doing 15 year sentences on good behavior! Cutting off someone’s beard in their sleep is not nearly as awful as killing someone in cold blood. I’m not sure where our justice system is heading, especially after this. It seems that this should be under the Free Exercise clause. The Amish, like the Native Americans, are in their own world in the United States. As long as they’re not doing anything illegal, then they should be able to do what they believe would “fix” the unholy ones in their Amish community. Actions versus beliefs people. Their actions were forced, but nobody was hurt. They did this from their beliefs, therefore the government should rethink this ruling.

  8. stszep says:

    I read the article and my thought was how would other religious groups react in a similar situation? Not much different is the answer. Below is an article on a sikh who shaved his head.

  9. Steve M says:

    Wow!!, Yeah I think the court had their collective somewhere else that day and it sure was not on the particulars of the case. We use to do similar things in the service, “Code Reds” for fellow soldiers that did not fall in line with the rest of the team. Yes, this was more in line with being able to count on the other guy having your back, but heck, losing your beard for a couple of weeks is no big deal. It sounds like the younger generation of even the Amish are pushing for change and this is why there was even a complaint filed. But to give the guy 15 years for cutting off a beard is bizarre. The court who came down with this decision really needs to be looked at and possibly have some judges replaced cause they are not dealing with reality here.

  10. Takym V. says:

    My response to this case is that it shows how corrupted our judical system is because of how Mr. Mullet and his Amish crew were basically trying to prove a point. Though no one was harmed in the process , he was sentenced up to 15yeaars of imprisonment for proving a statement and there are other crimes such as murder and get about 10 years or lower.

  11. Brittany T says:

    From this article beards in the Amish culture must have some significant standings and cutting it is illegal so he has to pay for his crime.

  12. Harley J says:

    I do think there should be some amount of jail time, but 15 years is outrageous considering there were no injuries or anything. I feel like there are an alarming number of cases today that are either not giving enough punishment (kid that killed 4 people with no jail time) or giving too much. The court system is flawed and needs to be fixed.

  13. Casey H says:

    While it is a crime and he should definitely be punished, the punishment is a bit too severe in my opinion. It’s likely a big deal to the people that were victimized so he should definitely not be let off easy, but 15 years? Too severe in my opinion.

  14. Savanna G says:

    I think that 15 years in prison is a little ridiculous. Its not like he did any physical harm to them. They were just trying to warn them. People get away with murder these days so I think it is a little outrageous that he’s sentenced to 15 years. I cannot believe thats what the court decided.

  15. Gerilyn P says:

    I would have to ask the same question as Sharriette,”Did the young men press charges?” Who in the Amish community found out about this and who actually pressed charges?. What about fraternities, where there is a initiating week for future members…?? I do feel the 15 yrs. was too drastic of a sentence. But as a future social worker, I am looking at the emotional part of waking the young Amish individuals up. The Amish have strong beliefs as with any religious groups have. But who is to say other religious groups do not show emotional and/or physical abuse within their members. Now how can one compare this case with the Wisconsin vs. Yoder case? Completely different situations to me. The Yoder case was based on The Wisconsin Compulsory School Attendance Law, which the state of Wisconsin felt the Amish violated the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. This case showed no physical or emotional abuse in any way. My family lived in a town with a Amish community and they have strong beliefs, value, and morals the family members must live by and if anyone steps out of their norm, the Amish community will shun them. To the English community, shunning a person may sound cruel, but then again, part of the Amish faith is following their rules of the order. I feel since this (as the news article states) an attack on people, where as the case Wisconsin v. Yoder was not an attack, therefor the 15 years sentencing was based on “a attack”.

  16. krfukes says:

    I think fifteen years was way too harsh of a sentence. As others have mentioned, it is crazy how murderers often receive less time. For the courts to not categorize it as a hate crime could have caused more outrage however, with protests that the Amish culture was not being taken seriously. The judge could have been trying to make an example out of Mr. Mullet and the others, that their bad behavior was not going to be tolerated, whether they acted like bullies or real criminals.

  17. Anika J says:

    The punishment for this crime is ABSURD! I understand the fact that laws and penalties are passed to protect the greater good but…..when the laws surpass reason, don’t make sense, or are unjust, they should be/need to be changed. Black Americans and women were not allowed to vote “by law” in America. This was a “law, ” but this “law” was unjust. The law was changed. In this case, the punishment does NOT fit the crime. Feelings were hurt but no lives were lost. No irreparable damage was done because the member’s hair will grow back. Mr. Mullet acted inappropriately according to his communities’ standards, but I feel this issue should have NEVER made it to court. They should have settled this incident within their community.
    The court should have “thrown this one out with the bathwater” and….maybe applied….”separation of church and state”….maybe? Either way, the sentence Mr. Mullet received was excessive…to say the least. The charges were absurd. I feel that there are more pressing and troubling issues to be concerned with in our society (e.g. murder, corruption, etc…).

  18. valdostaphil says:

    Phil Edwards – Fall 2015 – Ethics/AdminLaw

    Altogether, this is pretty weak sauce. The problem is that our criminal codes are piecemeal patchworks that have been passed, amended, edited, modified over time. The breadth and depth of it allows for inconsistent enforcement and unfair discrepancies from one case to the next. What should happen is a massive overhaul of the entire criminal code at the federal level and in all 50 states to gain some consistency and make this stuff make more sense. Because this specific case takes a purely black and white view of the statues, ignores the shades of gray in the world, and is pretty well an all-around miscarriage of justice. And yet it was within the federal prosecutor’s purview. From a philosophical standpoint, this is complete garbage.

    From a legal standpoint, I wonder if federal statute or case law has a working definition of “bodily injury.” Because is having hair removed an actual “bodily injury”? I’m not so sure.

    But also, even holding someone down for even a few seconds against their will would technically constitute “abduction” by almost all definitions of the word. I’m pretty sure that in Virginia “abduction” can be as simple as blocking an exit and refusing to allow someone to leave a residence and/or denying them their cell phone and/or keys and such. So if this federal prosecutor was determined, he/she could have found something.

    This seems like a good learning moment: don’t do anything to anyone against their will. Period. Or you might wind up charged with something, and the system isn’t always kind.

  19. Catherine S says:

    Did they all “willfully cause bodily injury?” and – Did they cause such injury “because of actual or perceived Race, Color (or) Religion?” I take issue with these two criteria in this situation. And i also take issue with the whole situation in general and the biasness of it all.

    1) A beard is not your body. It does not bleed. It is not necessary to sustain life or to be a productive member of society. Therefore – no injury. That would be like saying the woman that cuts my toe nails when I get a pedicure is liable for jail as well if she cuts them shorter than i wanted. No – utter ridiculousness.

    2) How – HOW – can you hate someone because of their religion when you, yourself, share the same religion? Do you now hate yourself too? That’s preposterous. I can hate someone because of who they are, what they do, what they say- but not because they claim to believe in Aliens the same as I do. When you eat, sleep, breath, work, and pray Aliens – you can’t rightfully accuse that person of hating someone else solely because of that same belief.

    So – the hate crime is a wash to me. It’s a forced perception from a DA that is already overreaching. This definitely would not have flown out the door in Law and Order. McCoy would have called the BS what it is. As far as the Federal Interstate Commerce Act – I’m highly confused how that could have remotely been pursued without being laughed at. I digress.

    Was this sentence justified? Well, it depends. I have more questions that answers at this point.

    1) How are the Amish different that any other religious community? What makes them so special? Because they are live on common land, that they own and have their own communities? but don’t other religions as well? Don’t we enforce all of our other laws on those other religions? So why ignore the offenses of the Amish? Do we ignore the Mormons in Utah?

    2) Whatever the justification is as to why the Amish are different – basing this solely on past precedents – how is what a religious sect do in order to keep their kid in line – a Federal concern? Did they kill them? Did they injure their body, bring blood, or knock them unconscious? Were they bruised, beaten, or starved? Any bones broken? No? So what you’re saying is – the dead skin that grows out of their face, that we call a beard, that is a non-essential part of our bodies was removed. So basically, they were beard raped? Let’s think about this- IF we’re already giving them special accommodations for their religion and communal beliefs – why are we now drawing the line and on top of that – why are we giving the maximum penalty?

    This is like saying if I choose to spank my kids – in MY house, which shares the same religions, and the same “community” aka house, and of which I’m the leader of – that i should go to prison. Pardon my French, but what the HELL. These boys/men CHOSE to be, or at least remain, in this Amish community. I know it’s hard to get out – but it can be done. I HAVE watched Breaking Amish. Nothing is impossible. Everyone rebels. Most kids lose their allowance, get grounded, can’t watch TV, or take the care Friday to the movies. What do Amish kids/young adults have that can be taken away? Nothing – it’s all communal! The only thing that is theirs alone is their hair, the beard, and their… well, you know… but that would be actual injury to the body. How is this form of discipline different that being told you can’t go over to Amy’s house for a sleepover? Ridiculousness. Let me reassure you, i am most DEFINITELY a Libertarian. This is not the Government’s purview. It’s not even the State’s purview if you want to be honest. This is the family’s purview and theirs alone. And if their “family” consists of the whole community, then so be it.

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