In a story more fitting of a Vonnegut novel than an actual courtroom case, sixteen Amish people, including a Bishop, were convicted by a jury of hate crimes for cutting the hair and beards of fellow Amish men.
The sixteen people, ten men and six women, were part of a rogue or ‘breakaway’ Amish group who had broken from a more traditional Amish group twenty years ago. The leader, Samuel Mullet Sr., according to The Guardian, “allowed beatings of those who disobeyed him, had sex with married women to ‘cleanse them,’ and then, last fall, instructed his followers to cut the beards and hair of his critics, an act considered deeply offensive in Amish culture.”
Mullet, along with four of his children, his son-in-law and three nephews, felt that they were punishing those who had broken religious law. “You have your laws on the road and the town if somebody doesn’t obey them, you punish them. But I’m not allowed to punish the church people?” Mullet told the Associated Press last October. “I just let them run over me? If every family would just do as they pleased, what kind of church would we have?”
According to Courthouse News:
Since Amish cannot operate motor vehicles, they hired drivers to transport them to the homes their perceived religious enemies. Once there, they used scissors or battery-powered clippers to forcibly shave the beards of men and the hair of women.
“During each assault, the defendants restrained and held down the victims,” according to the December 2012 (sic) indictment. “During some of the assaults, the defendants injured individuals who attempted to intervene to protect or rescue the victims.”
Sentencing for the group is scheduled to take place on January 24th of 2013. They could face life in prison.
While to many, this might seem like an extreme overreaction for what might be considered a tame fraternity hazing, the Amish are very peaceful and their facial hair is believed to be critical to their religious traditions, as is it important to Orthodox Jews and to many Muslims. This civil rights victory directly affects a very small portion of the US population, but its ramifications could extend far beyond the Amish community. Perhaps one day, future Mitt Romneys will be convicted for hate crimes for tackling a gay classmate to cut his hair.