COLUMBUS, Ohio - The religious beliefs of victims of alleged beard- and hair-cutting attacks in Ohio Amish country are what matters in the case, not those of the defendants, a federal judge ruled Thursday in rejecting the defendants’ challenges of the federal hate crimes law.
The defendants, who include 16 members of an eastern Ohio breakaway Amish group, argued the alleged attacks last fall weren’t hate crimes but internal church disciplinary matters not involving anti-Amish bias. The defendants also argued that the federal hate crime law violates their First Amendment rights of religious expression.
US District Court Judge Dan Polster said the defendants’ use of the First Amendment claim was offensive, given that the Constitution allows the defendants “to maintain their religious beliefs and practices, which are so different from the beliefs and practices of most Americans.’’
“In fact, violent acts of the kind charged in the superseding indictment are designed to punish individuals who exercise their religious beliefs, or to chill others from doing so,’’ he wrote.
Attorney Dean Carro argued earlier this year that the alleged “intrareligious actions’’ aren’t covered by federal law.
“The actions are not alleged to have been taken out of prejudice or hatred against the Amish religion,’’ Carro, who represents defendant Lester Miller, wrote in a March filing. “Rather, the alleged acts are doctrine-based Old Order Amish beliefs.’’