How Sam Mullet, the Beard-Cutting Amish Bishop, Got Punished for His Religious Beliefs

3a14Sam Mullet How Sam Mullet, the Beard Cutting Amish Bishop, Got Punished for His Religious Beliefs

Today Samuel
Mullet Sr., the leader of an Amish sect in Ohio, was
sentenced to 15 years in federal prison for encouraging his
followers to cut the beards and hair of Amish people who spurned
his teachings. The series of bizarre assaults, though humiliating,
did not cause any serious injuries and probably would have resulted
in a sentence of a few years under state law. But Steven M.
Dettelbach, the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Ohio,
successfully argued that they amounted to federal “hate crimes,”
since the victims were chosen “because of” their “actual or
perceived religion.” The upshot was that Mullet faced a potential
life sentence, which prosecutors
claimed he fully deserved, suggesting that forcible beard
trimming is a crime tantamount to mass murder. Mullet’s lawyer more
plausibly suggested that a term of two years or less would be
appropriate. Since Mullet is 67, there may not be much difference
between his actual sentence and the one prosecutors urged.To federalize Mullet’s crime, Dettelbach
cited absurdly tenuous connections to interstate commerce,
including the beard trimmer, shears, and disposable camera used by
Mullet’s followers. They were all manufactured outside of Ohio, you
see, so clearly this was a case that cried out for the Justice
Department’s attention. And did I mention that the beard-cutting
fanatics mailed a letter at one point and even used a highway
(although they never actually left the state)? I got your federal
jurisdiction right here.While that sort of nonsense is sadly familiar, Dettelbach’s
grandstanding intervention in this case also broke new ground in
the indiscriminate and unconstitutional use of federal power. It
has always been true that hate crime statutes punish people for
their bigotry, since the same actions are subject to more severe
penalties when they are motivated by animosity toward the victim’s
group. But treating Mullet’s offense as a hate crime sets another
dangerous precedent, effectively punishing him for his religious
beliefs. If the beard-cutting rampage had been motivated by
political differences, personal animosity, or sheer orneriness,
Mullet never would have been eligible for a life sentence. That
became a possibility only because Mullet wanted to punish people he
viewed as heretics. And by Dettelbach’s logic, any assault stemming
from internecine religious disputes is a federal hate crime, even
though that is surely not the scenario members of Congress had in
mind when they passed the law under which Mullet was charged.

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How Sam Mullet, the Beard-Cutting Amish Bishop, Got Punished for His Religious Beliefs

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