The Anti-Defamation League has filed an amicus brief in a case pending before the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on behalf of a broad coalition of civil rights, religious, educational, and law enforcement organizations in support of the constitutionality of the Mathew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act (HCPA). This is the first coalition brief defending the Act, and it attracted some of the most prominent and important civil rights, religious, law enforcement, LGBT, educational, and professional organizations in the country.
The cases involve Samuel Mullet Sr., the self-appointed Bishop of an Old Order Amish sect in central eastern Ohio, who ordered more than a dozen of his followers to engage in violent beard-and hair-cutting attacks against church members who had rebelled against his domineering control.
The victims of these religiously-motivated crimes were being punished: they had not obeyed Mullet’s edicts and “strayed from the true path.” Married men in this Amish community typically grow long beards and the women grow their hair long and keep it covered under a prayer bonnet. Beards and hair are sacred symbols of their religious identity.
The assailants invaded the victims’ homes or lured them into the open before attacking them. They forcibly cut their hair and beards using a variety of implements, including horse shears and electric beard trimmers. The attackers took pictures of their assaults to compound and memorialize the victims’ shame, and then buried the camera.
The attacks inspired fear throughout the Amish communities in the region. In September 2012, Mullet and his followers were tried and convicted of federal conspiracy, kidnapping, and violating the HCPA. U.S. District Judge Dan Aaron Polster eloquently described the defendants’ actions during sentencing: “you did more than just terrorize, traumatize, disfigure your victims, you trampled on the Constitution, and particularly the First Amendment which guarantees each and every American religious freedom.”
The defendants, Mullet and his followers, are now appealing the case, challenging their convictions and sentences on the grounds that the HCPA is unconstitutional, a violation of the First Amendment, and that the HCPA cannot apply to a case in which the perpetrators and victims are of the same religion.
The ADL coalition brief counters each of these arguments.
First, the brief argues the fact that the perpetrators identify as the same religion as the victims does not shield them from culpability under the HCPA: “To exempt intra-faith crimes from the HCPA would ignore many acts of bias-motivated violence that that devastating effects on communities.”
Second, the brief clearly demonstrates that the HCPA does not infringe on the defendants’ religious freedom rights: “Appellants are, and always have been, free to speak their minds and free to worship in any way they wish. They simply are not free to target victims for violent crimes because of religion.”
The list of organizations joining ADL and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights on this brief includes American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, American Association of People with Disabilities, American Association of University Women, American Federation of Teachers, American Jewish Committee, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice, B’nai B’rith International, GLSEN, Central Conference of American Rabbis, Hindu American Foundation, Human Rights Campaign, Human Rights First, Interfaith Alliance Foundation, Japanese American Citizens League, Jewish Council for Public Affairs, Jewish Women International, Muslim Advocates, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, National Center for Transgender Equality, National Council of Jewish Women, National Disability Rights Network, National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, National Organization for Women Foundation, National Urban League, OCA – Asian Pacific American Advocates, People For the American Way Foundation, PFLAG National, Police Executive Research Forum, Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund, Sikh Coalition, Society for Humanistic Judaism, South Asian Americans Leading Together, Southern Poverty Law Center, Union of Reform Judaism, UNITED SIKHS, Women of Reform Judaism, and Women’s League for Conservative Judaism.