amish Members of Mullet’s settlement wait to make their pleas ( Associated Press ).

From the Cleveland Plain Dealer :
Federal prosecutors today [February 5] urged a judge to sentence Amish bishop Samuel Mullet to life in prison for coordinating a series of beard-cutting attacks on victims who shunned the bishop and his teachings. . . .

“There is no doubt that Mullet Sr. wanted, agreed with and encouraged all of these attacks,” the prosecutors wrote. “And for that reason, it is remarkable that he continues to deny his own culpability while throwing the other defendants under the proverbial bus, especially when some of these defendants are his children, his nephews and his clergymen.”

The document offers a sharp contrast to one filed by defense attorney Edward Bryan, who urged Polster to sentence Mullet to a prison term of two years or less, based on the minimal harm to the victims.

Mullet is the founder and leader of a breakaway Amish settlement near Bergholz, Ohio whose practices have been harshly criticized by many in the Amish community. According to the  New York Times , at least some of the attacks were in response to a large gathering of Amish bishops’ refusing to honor Mullet’s shunnings:

Shunnings should occur only after months of discussion and a near-unanimous vote of the congregation, Mr. Hershberger said. Normally, other Amish groups respect the decision and tell the offender he must make amends with his original church. . . .

Some 300 bishops from three states gathered in 2006 in Ulysses, Pa., to discuss the issue. They appointed a committee, including Mr. Hershberger, that made the rare decision not to honor Mr. Mullet’s decrees.

There has also been testimony alleging that Mullet pressured female members of the community into having sex with him, which his lawyer has not denied.

Perhaps most strangely, federal prosecutors chose to apply a recent hate crimes law to the case. While defense lawyers argued that ”turning a personal vendetta within the Amish community, and related attacks, into a federal hate-crimes case” was a stretch, the jury agreed with the prosecution that the attacks were “an effort to suppress the victims’ practice of religion.”

Mullet may have brought this on himself, seeking to invoke religious freedom as cover for his crimes.

“It’s all religion,” he told television reporters recently. “That’s why we can’t figure out why the sheriff has his nose in it.”

While this may seem like a quirky story of no consequence, Ohio State University legal scholar Douglas A. Berman thinks otherwise :
“No matter how insular your community, no matter how unique the kind of criminal activity is within that community, the federal government has a strong interest — and will go to court to protect that interest — in applying national laws,” he says.

Adjunct law professor at the Georgetown Law Center  Bill Otis  is more direct :
This seems to be a part of the present administration’s snarling hostility to religion. And one must admit the  defendant makes a politically apt target. This “bishop” sounds like a first-class thug, and he heads a splinter group in what is itself a very small, conservative, insular religion . . . But this is taking liberal detestation of religion to an absurd extreme.  What happened to government neutrality? Could a sentencing recommendation this far off the wall possibly have come about  without  at least an element of anti-religious bigotry?

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