ADL Disappointed with Court Decision Reversing Hate Crime Convictions in Attacks on Members of Amish Community

New York, NY, August 28, 2014 … The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) today expressed disappointment with a 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision on August 27 which reversed the hate crime convictions of 16 individuals involved in violent attacks on members of an Amish community in Ohio in 2011.  In overturning the hate crime convictions, the court focused on the standard for determining whether the defendants assaulted the victims “because of” their religion.

In a divided ruling, the court held that the trial court had issued erroneous jury instructions, and sent the case back to the lower court for new proceedings. ADL filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case on behalf of a broad coalition, supporting the constitutionality of the federal Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act (HCPA).

Christopher Wolf, ADL Civil Rights Chair, and Deborah M. Lauter, ADL Civil Rights Director, issued the following statement:

We are disappointed with the Circuit Court decision reversing the hate crime convictions in this case, but pleased that the court declined to strike down the HCPA.

We agree with the dissenting judge in this 2-1 decision that the convictions should stand, even under the standard the court applied. The defendants in this case targeted their victims, who were members of the Old Order Amish faith, and forcibly cut off the victims’ beards and hair, precisely because of the victims’ religion and the religious significance of those acts in the Amish faith.  Evidence from the trial showed that the defendants believed that the vic­tims had “strayed from the true path” and disobeyed the edicts of Samuel Mul­let, Sr., the self-appointed leader. As the dissent asks:  “…would Defendants have cut the victims’ hair and beard if the victims were Catholic, atheist, or any other non-Amish faith?”

We hope that these hate crime convictions will be reinstated when the case is retried using new jury instructions.

ADL led a broad religious, civil rights, and law enforcement coalition that helped secure enactment of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, and the drafting of model hate crime statutes for state legislatures.

ADL’s amicus brief, the first coalition brief supporting the constitutionality of the 2009 law, was signed by 40 prominent civil rights, human rights, religious, educational and law enforcement organizations.  The brief was prepared by David M. Raim, Joy L. Langford and Kate McSweeny of the Washington, D.C. office of Chadbourne & Parke LLP.