Lawyers for an accused Amish beard-cutting mob are arguing that the federal hate crimes law under which the Ohio men are being prosecuted is unconstitutional, for religious reasons.
In a motion on Monday, attorneys for the defendants argued that the hate crimes charges should be dismissed because “the alleged intra-religious actions between private individuals do not fall within the statute or federal authority. The actions are not alleged to have been taken out of prejudice or hatred against the Amish religion. Rather, the alleged acts are doctrine-based Old Order Amish beliefs.”
“The [Hate Crimes Prevention Act in 2009] is not to be applied in a manner that interferes with the practice of religion or speech under the First Amendment,” the motion says. “Therefore, the statute on its face, or as applied here, violates the federalism principles of the Tenth Amendment, which bars Congress from regulating an area historically left to the States.”
The filing suggests that because the hate crimes statute “broadly defines a ‘hate crime’ as ‘willfully caus[ing] bodily injury to any person…because of the actual or perceived….religion’” of a person, “it improperly includes actions, such as those alleged in this case, that were not intended to be covered as ‘hate crimes.’ The actions alleged in this case are not alleged to be the result of anti-Amish bias.”
Twelve members of the breakaway Amish Bergholz Clan are accused of forcibly cutting off the hair and beards — Amish symbols of faith — of members of the mainstream Amish community. The attacks were allegedly retaliations for a decision to overturn a series of excommunications dealt out by Sam Mullet. Mullet, who formed the Bergholz Clan in 1995, allegedly orchestrated the string of break-ins and assaults.
All twelve pleaded not guilty in January.
“If the court agrees, perhaps a remedy would be that this case would go away,” said J. Dean Carro, an attorney for the defense, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports.