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Amish

News Summaries From ICSA Periodicals

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has overturned a 2013 hate-crime conviction against 15 members of an Amish separatist group who forcibly cut the beards of others in their faith. Two judges on a three-judge panel upheld counts of conspiracy, obstruction of justice, and lying to the FBI, but said the attacks didn’t meet the standard of a hate crime. 

The specific reason the court didn’t see the attacks as hate crimes turned on a linguistic distinction made by the Supreme Court this year in Burrage v. United States, which clarified the legal meaning of the word “because.” According to the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009, the statute used in the case, a hate crime happens when someone “causes bodily injury to a person ... because of [that person’s] actual or perceived ... religion. … But in this case, “because of” has to meet the Supreme Court’s “but for” standard: But for religion, the Bergholz attacks would not have happened.

Since the original jury was instructed to evaluate whether religion was a “significant motivating factor,” and because the Supreme Court ruling hadn’t happened yet, the “but-for” standard wasn’t considered. Ultimately, the Sixth Circuit judges said they didn’t think the attacks met the clarified “but for” standard, since there were nonreligious motivations for the crime. The dissenting judge, Edmund Sargus Jr., however, argued there was little evidence that nonreligious motivations were involved and that, either way, religion was part of the motivation for and nature of the attacks. (The Atlantic, 9/2/14) [IT 6.1 2015]

In the PBS documentary The Amish: Shunned, a member of an Amish community alleges that shunning, which can include excommunication, is calculated to stimulate repentance among community members who refuse to conform to strict Amish ways, and to prevent them from negatively influencing the rest of the congregation. Several leavers explain how and why they left the church, and how shunning affected relationships with their families. An Amish man says, of the shunned, “They wanted something that was not allowable so they just moved on.” Naomi, who left the community, says that during a visit to Florida, where she worked in a nursing home, she decided to go to college to train for the nursing profession, but that higher education was forbidden by her brethren. Her anguished decision to leave the Amish was rewarded with a nursing degree. And she, like a number of other leavers, has helped departing Amish in their transition to mainstream society. (The Christian Post, 2/6/14) [IT 5.2]

The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati has rejected the request of Sam Mullet, leader of a small Ohio Amish group, that he be released from prison pending an appeal of his conviction on hate-crime charges. He was sentenced to a 15-year prison term for cutting off the hair and beards of fellow Amish. The judges wrote that “(Mullet) is the leader and exercises control over members of his community,” and that he could still pose a danger to them. Mullet’s lawyer said the idea that he poses a danger to others “borders on the ludicrous. The government has presented a false narrative that he was this Svengali-like cult leader, and he’s not. He never was, he isn't now and he never will be.” The defense argues that Mullet’s was not a hate crime but a case of domestic violence, with no spiritual significance—as the state contends—and that the government should not have become involved in a family or church dispute. (Baxter Bulletin, 7/26/13) [IT 5.1 2014] 

Samuel Mullet, Sr., the Amish leader who led hair- and beard-cutting attacks on fellow Amish in Ohio, has been sentenced in Cleveland to 15 years in prison. Fifteen of his followers were sentenced to terms ranging from 1 year to 7 years. The government said the attacks, which it defined as hate crimes, were retaliation against Amish who defied or denounced Mullet’s authoritarian style. Mullet and his family emphatically denied that their community is a cult. (Washington Post, 2/8/13) [IT 4.2 2013] 

Fifteen members of the Ohio Amish breakaway group led by Sam Mullet, Jr., have been found guilty of hate crimes; they carried out beard- and hair-cutting attacks, planned by Mullet, on fellow Amish. All face prison terms of at least ten years. Sociologist Donald Kraybill told National Public Radio’s Barbara Bradley Haggerty last year that Mullet acted like a cult leader. “He’s not accountable to anyone. He’s not in fellowship with other Amish groups. He thinks he’s invincible. So, under the guise of religion, he is trying to protect himself so he can do whatever he wants to do.” Mullet argued that the haircutting was protected religious activity. Defense lawyers claimed the incidents were aimed to bring wayward members back to God and true Amish ways. (NPR, 9/20/12) [IT 3.3 2012] 

When Mullet ordered the haircutting of Amish leaders, he was responding to an Amish bishop’s veto of his shunning certain members of his own small community. The bishop’s veto also may have stemmed, in part, from reports that he was an authoritarian who brainwashed followers. (Huffington Post, 9/15/12) [IT 3.3 2012]
Mullet’s Bergholz, Ohio community—40 adults and scores of children—remained “tightly bonded and unwavering” in their belief in his teachings as they waited for the judge’s sentencing following the beard-cutting convictions. Some were afraid that their children would be taken away and given to relatives in other Amish communities. They resent the government’s portrayal of Bergholz, and they’re tired of being treated like zoo animals by outsiders. They say the attacks had nothing to do with religious feuds, but rather family arguments, a theory the federal jury rejected. Says one of Mullet’s sons, “We’re doing what the old-timers did for years. We’re going to keep going. We are not going to disperse. We’ll deal with whatever happens when we get to it.” In 1995, Sam Mullet left the Amish community in Frederickton, Ohio, seeking to lead an ultraconservative group in Bergholz, where he farmed 800 acres, founded a construction company, and saw the town grow. The men of Bergholz said they allowed their own beards to be cut in acknowledgment of their wrongdoings. (Religion News Service, 10/23/12) [IT 3.3 2012] 

While the perpetrators of the Amish beard cutting deserve to be punished, they should not have been charged, as they were, with committing a federal hate crime. Originally, the hate crime law was intended to punish violence that interfered with a federally sponsored act—preventing blacks from voting, for example. But following subsequent Congressional action, “it has become a purer hate-crimes law, aimed simply at violence motivated by bias.” But, having expanded the law, we mustn’t extend it to heinous conduct that isn’t a hate crime in the “classic sense of the term.” The recent targeting and murder of six Sikhs “seems to be an archetypal hate crime,” but “Amish believers attacking others to make a point about the nature of their shared religion is trickier to classify.” Indeed, intrachurch violence would be “ripe for federal intervention,” and over time the law “designed to protect religious groups against bias could easily become a sword with which to prosecute them.” (The Herald via Bloomberg News, 9/11/12) [IT 3.3 2012] 

Amish sect leader Sam Mullet accuses Ohio prosecutors of trying to prejudice the jury in his upcoming trial by including in the indictment descriptions of conduct not mentioned in the charges against him, which allege that he committed hate crimes when he cut off beards of fellow Amish. The descriptions to which he objects refer to his sexual practices—he sleeps with members’ wives to teach them how to be sexually satisfied in marriage—and to corporal punishment and self-deprivation practiced in his community. (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 5/11/12) [IT 3.2 2012] 

A federal appeals c
ourt has ruled that Amish sect leader Sam Mullet, charged in a series of beard-cutting attacks on other Amish in Ohio, will not be released pending trial on federal hate-crimes charges. Among other reasons for its action, the court cited Mullet’s media interviews, in which he defended the assaults, his threatening to kill a local sheriff, lying to agents, and destroying evidence. (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 5/1/12) [IT 3.1 2012] 

The religious subculture of Amish communities in Indiana is similar in some ways to that of polygamist Mormon sects in Utah, according to a psychotherapist who works with the former. James Cats, speaking to mental health and social service professionals in June at the Safety Net Clinical Conference, in St. George, Utah, said that for the Amish, the outside world is a second place. “They know it’s out there, but they want to keep it at a distance.” He said that Amish distrust of outsiders breeds suspicion of authorities, so they deal internally with such things as sexual abuse, afraid that a member might go to jail if found guilty in a secular court. He suggested that providers working with such groups take a “faith-acceptance” approach, try to maintain a presence in the community, and identify willing partners. A plural wife who is a member of Independent Fundamentalist Mormons in Salt Lake City said that polygamist Mormons’ reticence to speak of their lifestyle leads to stereotyping, isolation, and fear of authorities. She told how she didn’t talk to police when growing up because she was afraid they would arrest her polygamous father. Safety Net was established in 2003 by the attorneys general of Utah and Arizona to address the isolation created by mutual suspicion between authorities and polygamists. [IT 1.2 2010]

There is “almost a plague” of incestuous rape in some Amish communities in the Midwest, including Ohio and Pennsylvania, and little is done to prevent or punish the crimes because Amish ideology stresses forgiveness, inhibits reporting to secular authorities — who in turn tend to ignore Amish practices — discourages litigation among members, and raises women to defer to men’s wishes absolutely.[csr 4.1 2005 2005]

The Amish approach is based on Gelassenheit, or submission: “Church members abide by their clergymen; children obey their parents; sisters mind their brothers; and wives defer to their husbands (divorce is taboo). With each act of submission, the Amish follow the lesson of Jesus when he died on the cross rather than resist his adversaries.”[csr 4.1 2005 2005]

A Centre County (PA) judge has ruled two Amish men must not keep horses on their property, which is zoned high-density, multi-family residential, because a Walker Township ordinance says they must have more than one acre to do so. The judge agreed that the law poses a burden on the men’s freedom of religion — their beliefs forbid use of motor vehicles — but cited countervailing health and safety concerns in his denial of the men’s appeal for a variance. (Erin L. Nissley, Centre Daily Times, Internet, 4/9/04) [csr 3.2 2004 2004]

Amish. Account of Amish Banishment. Irene Miller Garret's recent memoire, Crossing Over: One Woman's Exodus from Amish Life," provides a window into the Old Order Amish community, whose strict rules and insularity proved too much for the spirited Garrett. She remains excommunicated from the Amish church — she ran away from home to marry an outsider who worked for Amish families in Kaolona, IA — and shunned by her family. Garrett says that women are "second-class, subservient to men" among her Amish kin, and that certain "inconsistencies" in the community bother her: a few select members of the church could break rules while most others could not. She also questioned the notion that the outside world was wicked. Since her marriage, Garrett has earned a GED, in her new Kentucky home, and hopes to attend nursing school. (Cynthia J. McGroarty, Knight-Ridder Tribune New, Houston Chronicle, 1/18/2002, Internet) [csr 1.1 2002]


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World Religions & Spirituality Project - Amish