(PHOTO: CLEVELAND FEDERAL COURT) A photograph shown by the federal court of an Amish man having his beard forcefully cut.

(PHOTO: CLEVELAND FEDERAL COURT)
A photograph shown by the federal court of an Amish man having his beard forcefully cut.

Amish Hair Convictions Court

Back in 2011, several Amish in small rural communities in Ohio were attacked by a breakaway sect. During the attacks, at least five men and women were dragged from bed, restrained, and had their beards and hair chopped off. Among the Amish community, the way that men grow beards and women wear their hair is very religiously significant. The beard is thought to be a symbol of faith and manhood.
Though the Amish are typically self regulating and settle their differences outside of the judicial system, several members of the community did come forward and report the attacks. In 2012, the leader of the break away sect, Sam Mullet, and fifteen of his loyal followers were convicted of carrying out the attacks as an act of religious intolerance and a way of shaming the more mainstream Amish community, whom he felt were straying. Since Mullet and his followers were convicted of religious hate crimes, they all faced time in prison ranging from one to over ten years.
On August 27, 2014, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati reversed the Amish hair cutting hate crime convictions. Two of the three judges involved felt that while no one questioned whether or not the attacks occurred, they did not feel that the acts were necessarily religiously motivated. According to court documents, “When all is said and done, considerable evidence supported the defendants’ theory that interpersonal and intra-family disagreements, not the victims’ religious beliefs, sparked the attacks.”
It is unclear at this point if the overturning of the hate crimes conviction will lead to the release of any of the Amish currently imprisoned. While that was the bulk of the conviction, many faced other charges as well that were not part of the appeal, ranging from various assaults to concealing evidence.