A federal judge has rejected a challenge of the federal hate crimes law by Amish sect leader Sam Mullet and 15 followers charged with beard- and hair-cutting assaults in Ohio Amish country last year.
U.S. District Judge Dan Polster ruled that the indictment against Mr. Mullet, brought by the U.S. Justice Department under the 2009 Hate Crimes Prevention Act, does not violate the U.S. Constitution as the defendants' lawyers had argued.
Mr. Mullet's attorney, along with lawyers for the others, said the beard-cutting attacks were not hate crimes because they did not involve an anti-Amish bias but rather a dispute within a religion.
Judge Polster said the Hate Crimes Prevention Act doesn't limit acts of violence to disputes between different religions.
"While hate crimes are often committed by members of one religious (or racial or ethnic) group against another, history is replete with examples of internecine violence," he ruled. "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."
The lawyers had also argued that the hate crimes law violated the defendants' rights to religious expression under the First Amendment.
The judge said that claim is "particularly offensive" because the Constitution is what allows Mr. Mullet and his followers to maintain religious beliefs and practices "which are so different from the beliefs and practices of most Americans."
He said the violent acts described in the government's indictment were "designed to punish" those who were exercising their religious beliefs, "or to chill others from doing so."
The judge's ruling was the second legal setback this week for the defense.
On Tuesday, the judge ruled that he would not remove language from the indictment that Mr. Mullet said was included to "smear" his character.
Torsten Ove: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1510. First Published June 1, 2012 11:30 AM