|Samuel Mullet - Bergholz, Ohio|
Just yesterday, he and fifteen other Amish men and women were convicted of hate crimes for a series of hair- and beard- cutting attacks on fellow sect members.
A federal jury found the 66-year-old Mullet guilty of orchestrating the cuttings last fall in an attempt to shame mainstream members of his community who he believed were straying from their beliefs. His followers were found guilty of carrying out the attacks, which terrorized the normally peaceful religious settlement that aims to live simply and piously.
Prosecutors and witnesses described how sons pulled their father out of bed and chopped off his beard in the moonlight and how women surrounded their mother-in-law and cut off two feet of her hair, taking it down to the scalp in some places.
One woman testified that Mullet coerced women at his settlement into having sex with him, and others said he encouraged men to sleep in chicken coops as punishment.
The defendants face prison terms of 10 years or more. Prosecutors say they targeted hair because it carries spiritual significance in their faith.
I've searched the internet to understand more about that "spiritual significance" but came up empty. Granted, I did not make a very exhaustive search, but every source I found mentioned the fact that there is a "spiritual significance" for the Amish in their hair, but I didn't find a source that would either define or amplify the phrase and say exactly what that meant.
That seemed odd to me, given the fact that this "hate crime" centered around the cutting of hair and beards as an act of violence and hate.
What was reported is that the government said the cuttings were an attempt to shame members of Mullet's community who he believed were straying from their beliefs.
I think both you and I can both make a pretty good guess that it has something to do with sexuality and gender identity.
The Amish, after all, are a group of traditionalist Christian church fellowships that form a subgroup of the Mennonite churches. The history of the Amish church began with a schism in Switzerland within a group of Swiss and Alsatian Anabaptists in 1693 led by Jakob Ammann. Those who followed Ammann became known as Amish.
As Christians, they have undoubtedly read the story of Sampson and Delilah, who cut off his hair which was the source of his strength.
I'm sure they also know the story of Mary Magdalene and how she lavished Jesus with expensive oils, washed his feet and then wiped them with her hair. That act was very disturbing to at least one of the disciples, not just because of the cost of the oil but, no doubt, because of the sexual symbolism of a woman's hair.
Even though Amish are "home schooled" only until the 8th grade, it's easy, then, to deduce that the "spiritual significance" of hair, for the Amish, has to do with strength and virility for men and sexuality for women.
That's not just an issue peculiar to the Amish or the ancient Hebrews.
Indeed, I remember the first time I saw one of my aunts, who was a Roman Catholic nun, without her veil. It was in the late 50s and I was just a child, but I remember staring at her "buzz cut" in horror. She tried to laugh it off, but I could see her discomfort. "I'm a Marine for Jesus," she said as she laughed, but I could see her face burning with shame and embarrassment.
I never saw her again without her veil.
I don't think it was meant to shame her. Rather, as she told me later - long after she had left the convent - cutting off her hair was a symbol of her vow of celibacy. She had sacrificed her sexuality in order to be faithful to the work of the church.
Oh, the things we do for Jesus!
Still, it brought her a sense of shame for me to see her with her head shaved.
Women who were found guilty of spreading gossip were tied to a chair and dunked into a large vat of water in the public square.
Some offenders would be required to wear a sign around their neck or branded like an animal with a hot iron on their face or hands: "T" for Thief; the 'Scarlet Letter' "A" for Adultery.
Would these things be considered "hate crimes" today?
A hate crime is a category used to described bias-motivated violence: "assault, injury, and murder on the basis of certain personal characteristics: different appearance, different color, different nationality, different language, different religion."Defense attorneys acknowledged that the hair cuttings took place and that crimes were committed but contend that prosecutors were overreaching by calling them hate crimes.
"You have your laws on the road and the town — if somebody doesn't obey them, you punish them. But I'm not allowed to punish the church people?" Mullet told The Associated Press last October.
The courts answered that question in a resounding "no".
"The victims in this case are members of a peaceful and traditional religion who simply wanted to be left to practice their religion in peace," U.S. Attorney Steven Dettelbach said. "Unfortunately, the defendants denied them this basic right and they did so in the most violent way."
Federal officials said the verdicts would send a message about religious intolerance.
What is allowed to happen in one religious community has an affect on what is allowed to happen in other religious communities. In this country, we are guaranteed freedom OF religion but we're also guaranteed freedom FROM religion - as well as freedom from one religion's violent attempts to shame their members into submission to beliefs against their will.
The case sets an important precedent about religious intolerance, one that comes at a critical juncture in our culture when the term "religious freedom" is being bandied about by old, dry, celibate men in purple shirts who object to having to provide insurance that considers contraceptive medications and devices as part of good health care for women.
We may not be talking about women's hair, but we are talking about women's sexuality and health. In many cases, the arguments used to coerce women into believing they should not be using contraceptive measures are, in fact, shame-based.
Meanwhile, the man who impregnated her is either seen as "just being a man" - you know, he just can't help himself against the feminine wiles of women (and, really, who could blame him, right?) - or, he's not seen at all. Invisible. Not responsible (as opposed to irresponsible, which is also true.
As far as I know, no woman has yet been tied to a chair and dunked into a vat of water in the public square, but at least one woman has recently been called a "slut" on public radio - over three consecutive days - for insisting that the cost of her contraception medication be covered under her health care insurance.
That doesn't fit the legal definition of a "hate crime" but it sure feels violent and hateful to me.
Meanwhile, back in Ohio, members of Mullet's defense team said appeals were likely and would focus on whether the beard-cuttings amounted to religious-based hate crimes. Judge Dan Aaron Polster scheduled sentencing for Jan. 24.
The sixteen defendants, with about 50 children between them and including six couples, belong to a community of about 25 families. One of the attorneys said, "The community is going to be ripped apart. I don't know what's going to happen to all their children."
I suspect, as Christians, they will band together and care for each other during prison sentences and appeal processes. When there was a shooting in a one-room Amish Schoolhouse in Pennsylvania in 2006, injuring 10 children ages 6-13 and killing 5, there was a great deal of media attention on the centrality of forgiveness and reconciliation in the Amish tradition.
Defense attorneys said the defendants were bewildered by the verdicts. "They really don't understand the court system the way the rest of us have, being educated and reading newspapers," said Joseph Dubyak, whose client, Linda Schrock, has 10 children with her husband, who was also convicted.
|Amish enter U.S. Federal Courthouse in Cleveland on 9/21/12|
It was ever thus. Separation of church and state. It's more complicated than it might seem.
I have a feeling this one is far from over.
Stay tuned. I think there's a lot more ridding on this than just religious intolerance or freedom of religion.
It has everything to do with hair and sex, and the way they can become targets of - as well as vehicles for - shame and hate.