Every so often you read a legal decision so clear, so lucid, that, for a moment, all the lights in the room seem brighter. Such language issued from Judge Dan Polster in his dismissal of the First Amendment claim of the sixteen Amish men accused of a hate crime against other Amish victims. In short, Judge Polster found that an assault based on sectarian differences can be charged as a hate crime.
"In fact, violent acts of the kind charged in the superseding indictment are designed to punish individuals who exercise their religious beliefs, or to chill others from doing so," he wrote.
. . .
"By the Defendants' logic, a violent assault by a Catholic on a Protestant, or a Sunni Muslim on a Shiite Muslim, or an Orthodox Jew on a non-Orthodox Jew, would not be prohibited by this statute," Polster wrote.
It's just beautiful logic and completely demystifies defense attorney Dean Carro's argument that "intrareligous actions" are not covered under the law.
"The actions are not alleged to have been taken out of prejudice or hatred against the Amish religion," Carro, who represents defendant Lester Miller, wrote in a March filing. "Rather, the alleged acts are doctrine-based Old Order Amish beliefs."
Those beliefs relate to punishment for a variety of sins, Carro added, and as such aren't subject to federal authority. Messages were left for Carro seeking comment Thursday.
To be clear, what the defendant is arguing is that the breakaway sect of the Bergholz clan had every right to punish a sect that did not accept their rather extreme views and to punish them in a manner abhorrent to all Amish people -- cutting their hair and beards. It assumes that Bishop Mullet has a right to impose his religious beliefs and practices on an Amish group of different beliefs. Seen through that lens it truly does seem absurd. Judge Polster found it particularly so given the freedom of religion and lack of imposition by any other religious or governmental authority on Amish custom.
Frankly, I'm a little amazed that Carro would argue for Mullet's right to punish members of another group, as opposed to conceding this a conflict driven assault. It just makes it so much worse. It speaks so directly to Sam Mullet's authoritarian pathology and sense of entitlement. The Amish who were attacked were not subject to Bishop Mullet's edicts. One of them, Myron Miller, is a bishop. That's not punishment. It's retaliation. I don't think that's legal.
Judge Polster dealt another blow to the defense when he declined to strike language from the grand jury indictment that the defense says may prejudice the jury. That language? Descriptions of Sam Mullet's abuses of his followers including his claims of privilege to sleep with other men's wives. And I'm betting the thing about his putting disobedient men in a chicken coop is in there, too. It's so hard for the defense when the actual character and actions of a defendant, in context, are so abhorrent, they can't help but sway a jury against him. But Judge Polster has ruled that Mullet's actions are elements in the crime.
"Mullet's role in the community, the co-defendants' allegiance to him, the fact that he demands obedience to his authority, and his willingness to punish other Amish for insubordination explain his and his co-defendants' actions, helping the jury comprehend how and why members of an otherwise peaceful community would resort to violent conduct," he wrote.
For background see here, here, and here.
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