Why have seven Amish men, including a bishop, been forced to remain locked in jail, without bond, since their arrest late last November? The cover story propagated by those responsible for this gross abuse of power has it that these devout Christians, especially Bishop Samuel Mullet, who has been held in isolation, pose a threat to the Amish community and are a flight risk. The real story is far more sinister and reveals a pattern of persecution of the Amish that has plagued their entire history, both here and abroad.
By fervently embracing and actually practicing Christian principles of humility, simplicity, mutuality and pacifism, the Amish are a living alternative — and, to the power elite, a direct threat — to our dominant culture built on arrogance, extravagance, consumerism and militarism. As such, the Amish have been victimized by repeated witch hunts hatched by assorted rulers since their advent. This sordid case is but the latest example, an ugly and unique one.
The incarcerated men and 10 other Amish defendants in this witch hunt are charged with violation of the controversial 2009 federal hate crime law, the first time it has been used in Ohio. In each of the handful of previous cases in which federal prosecutors charged individuals with violations of this far-reaching law, the alleged victimizers and victims belonged to different in-groups. In New Mexico where the first case emerged, it was a Native American victim and neo-Nazi perpetrator; in Mississippi, three white teens killed a black man; in Texas, three white supremacists brutalized a black man at a bus stop; in Arkansas, two white racists rammed a car occupied by five Hispanic men causing it to crash and burst into flames; and recently in Kentucky, four heterosexual youth allegedly attacked a homosexual man.
The Ohio Amish case is the first one in the nation in which both alleged victims and victimizers belong to the same in-group, a rather bizarre condition for a hate crime, especially one based on religious bias. Self-hatred is not an impossibility, but to charge an Amish bishop with hatred of his own people for a disciplinary action is as incongruous as charging the pope with hatred of Catholics for denying Communion to pro-choice advocates.
All religious orders impose disciplinary action upon wayward members. For the Amish, strict discipline is a matter of sheer survival. Governing the daily behavior of each Amish congregation is the “Ordnung,” an orally transmitted set of rules that is interpreted and enforced by the local bishop. Bishop Mullet reportedly imposed the punishment of “Meidung” (shunning) upon a few families who left his congregation, a disciplinary action apparently overruled by other Amish bishops. This internal religious dispute culminated in the notorious hair-cutting action. To justify this unusual tactic, Bishop Mullet is reported to have stated that he wanted to send a message to other Amish that “they should be ashamed of themselves” for their behavior toward him and his congregation. Law enforcement, however, decided these acts were criminal and those committing them are guilty of federal hate crimes punishable by life imprisonment.
The colossal difference in perception is based upon a considerably different set of cultural values between the Amish and English (non-Amish). The Amish have a shame-based culture; we have a guilt-based one. Guilt is imposed upon an offender, whereas shame, by its very nature, cannot be imposed; it must come from within. By trying to impose shame upon others, the hair-cutting perpetrators allowed English principles to misguide their behavior. However, that cultural mistake could hardly be properly defined and treated as a crime, least of all as a hate crime. On the contrary, those hair-cutting actions are more reasonably interpreted in an atmosphere free of anti-Amish bias, as acts of love, what the English would perhaps call “tough love.”
Tragically, we do not have a society free of bias against the Amish. On the contrary, we have one that grants bail and freedom to a former football coach accused of multiple child rapes in Pennsylvania and to a magistrate’s son accused of murdering a black teen in Florida, but denies bail to seven pacifist Amish farmers and forces them to rot in jail awaiting trial for cutting hair without permission. This miscarriage of justice needs to end. Free the Amish 7.
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