In a bizarre case that happened in our neck of the woods, the leader of a breakaway Amish sect was found guilty of getting his family members and followers to forcibly enter the homes of those whom he considered enemies and shearing their hair and beards in October 2011. Hair and beards have religious significance for the Amish. “The hair and beard cuttings are meant to be degrading and insulting to the men, according to Amish experts. Once married, Amish men let their beards grow and women do the same with their hair, believing such action is prescribed by the Bible.” (I wrote about the Amish community’s lifestyles before.)
The federal prosecutor in the case asked for life imprisonment but at the sentencing today the federal district judge imposed a sentence of 15 years in prison on 67-year old Sam Mullet. Fifteen of his followers, including his three sons, received shorter sentences of one to seven years.
What is interesting is that federal guidelines allow for life imprisonment for such offenses because of the forcible restraint involved and because they were prosecuted as federal hate crimes.
This was surely a curious case because one does not associate the Amish with intra-religious conflict, let alone gangster-type behavior. There is no doubt that Mullet is an odious man, a cult-leader who demanded sex from his female followers and even his daughter-in-law. Mullet’s group must have terrified the peace-loving Amish whose homes they entered. But apart from having their hair and beards cut and the emotional injury they suffered because of the violation of their religious beliefs, the victims were not harmed, except so far as to restrain them in order to do the cutting.
Mullet and his followers deserved to be punished but asking for life imprisonment seems excessive.