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Religion Takes Center Stage At Amish Hair Cutting Trial

August 29th, 2012

The Amish religion and its place in American law

Should Amish be able to adhere to their own religious laws or should they be beholden to America's?

In a recent criminal court case, which concerns a religious dispute between different Amish sects, an Amish bishop by the name of Raymond Hershberger claimed that a group that broke off from his community to form their own Amish sect in eastern Ohio attacked him. The son of Mr. Hershberger, Andy Hershberger, testified against this sect in court.

Andy Hershberger testified that members of the breakaway group arrived at the family home in the evening and demanded to talk to both him and his father. The Hershbergers invited the men inside in order to discuss the problem at hand. Johnny Mullet, the son of the group’s leader, Sam Mullet Sr., announced that the men were there to do what the Hershberger’s people had done to their people. According to Andy Hershberger’s testimony, the men then violently took hold of him, his brother and his father, Raymond Hershberger. It soon became apparent that the men were there in order to shear their father’s hair and beard. The hair and beard of a man has significant religious importance in the Amish religion. Raymond Hershberger begged the men not to go through with the act. They did not take heed to his pleas and proceeded to shear him. Andy Hershberger testified that he saw the hair flying and that it scattered all over the floor. The violence with which the men cut his hair had also caused his father’s scalp to bleed. Raymond Hershberger was shaking and crying from the violent act, which caused the women in the house to cry as well.

According to the prosecutors in the case, Mr. Hershberger was violently attacked and sheared due to a religious difference he had with the men. He was one of several Amish bishops that shared a disagreement with the breakaway group. The group of men being charged with the hate crime do not deny that the attack took place. However, they are trying to convince the court that the Amish people abide by a different law, one that is guided by their religious beliefs. They believe that the dispute between the two parties was between family and church, and that the government has no business interfering with such matters. According to the defendants, the act of shearing Mr. Hershberger was done due to the belief that he amongst others, were beginning to stray from the beliefs of the Amish religion.

What do you think about this case? Should state and federal governments allow disputes of a religious nature to be settled in ways that the religions in question see fit? Or should everyone in America be beholden to the same laws, regardless of the religious laws of the faith system they adhere to?

One Comment

  1. rev. jason horman says:

    when religious beliefs stray into illegal territory is when they become government issues. several persons ‘took a hold’ of this man (can be construed as simple assault), prevented his movement by his own free-will without his consent (false-imprisonment) and if he was moved against his will (then add kidnapping to the list of charges…) and forcibly shearing a man’s hair and beard on his person also against his will (it’s no longer just “simple” assault… now it has become another charge… assault and battery…)
    if a “believer” has strayed from the path, counseling is the first step… the final one if the believer cannot be reached and persuaded is ex-communication…
    putting hands on someone against their will is never appropriate… and is always able to be subject to legal action…

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