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Feb 08 2013

Ohio Amish beard cutters sentenced

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.

14 comments

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  1. 1
    machintelligence

    I am typing this comment with tongue firmly planted in cheek, but perhaps the severity of the sentence was not for justice, but deterrence. You must admit that someone in jail for life (or 15 years) is going to be in no position to cut any more beards. Even someone thinking about cutting someone’s beard against his will would give it another think or three.
    I think the concept of eye for an eye should be applied here. Give the perpetrators 90 days in jail or so and require that they remain clean shaven for 5 years as a condition of parole. Make the punishment fit the crime.

  2. 2
    Raging Bee

    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.

    How much jail time did he get for that?

  3. 3
    nakarti

    Actually, the ‘make them shave’ point might be applicable to determine appropriate sentencing. Their willingness to take such a punishment might indicate if it was truly a hate crime (by showing they do not share the belief they attacked.)

  4. 4
    Argle Bargle

    A 15 year prison sentence is essentially a life sentence for a 67 year old.

  5. 5
    Mano Singham

    I think a federal judge is unlikely to impose a punishment that violates a defendant’s religious beliefs even if the defendant violated other people’s beliefs, especially if the original action was deemed to constitute a hate crime.

  6. 6
    Mano Singham

    I don’t believe he was charged with that. The victims would have to have brought rape charges against him and I don’t know if they attempted to do that.

  7. 7
    F [is for failure to emerge]

    Mullet and his followers deserved to be punished but asking for life imprisonment seems excessive.

    Prosecutorial overreach: It’s not just for breakfast anymore.

  8. 8
    sc_770d159609e0f8deaa72849e3731a29d

    Is Mullet’s sentence intended to be preventive rather than punitive? is its purpose to stop him influencing the future behaviourof his family and followers?

  9. 9
    Mano Singham

    All punishments have a retributive and a deterrent element. I have not read the judge’s ruling in this case, though, to understand his mindset.

  10. 10
    sc_770d159609e0f8deaa72849e3731a29d

    I meant literally preventive- if the judge thinks Mullet has so much power over his family and followers that if he weren’t in prison he would inspire them to commit crimes that he can’t inspire in prison, it might explain the length of the sentence.

  11. 11
    henry gale

    Didn’t the US govt forcible shave enemy combatants?

  12. 12
    stonyground

    I find it interesting that these people believe that an infinitely wise god wants them to follow such utterly pointless and silly rules. A human head of state who demanded such things would be denounced as the worst kind of petty tyrant. Not only that, the rule about not cutting the corners of your beard is buried amongst more than six hundred other rules, many of which are just as pointless and silly. Why pick out this rule to be followed to the letter while ignoring all the rest? I suppose that I am being stupid, expecting religion to make sense, but then I am back to square one wondering why religious folk don’t say, on mass,” hang on, this just doesn’t make sense”.

  13. 13
    filethirteen

    I am back to square one wondering why religious folk don’t say, on mass,” hang on, this just doesn’t make sense”

    The worst of the religious cults are big on unquestioning obedience (ostensibly to “the lord”) and you’re very much brought up in a culture of “this is how it is and it’s very rude to doubt, even by question”. Some people (eg. Megan and Grace) manage to make the intellectual leap enough to escape, but to most it’s like trying to give up smoking when all your family smokes and they don’t want you to give up.

  14. 14
    sundoga

    Yes, but traditionally that’s for hygiene purposes. Body and hair lice and human fleas tend to thrive in military conditions unless strong measures are taken to maintain hygiene, measures often impossible to implement in field operations, so POW’s need to be cleaned up before we put them with others – otherwise the problem would only get worse.

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