Shunning, a practice central to the doctrine of the Amish people, has created some legal controversy recently in Cleveland, Ohio.
Last fall, a bishop of the Amish church, Sam Mullet, apparently went too far in his implementation of shunning, a practice that comes from compassion but is still considered very harsh among the Amish, and angered some of the members of his community.
Mullet was accused not only of being reckless with his power by having members of the community shunned, but he was also accused of sentencing men to sleep in chicken coops over night and forcing women into intercourse to show them how to be better wives.
Over 300 bishops met to discuss the actions of Mullet and ultimately decided to revoke his power to shun people in his settlement.
Mullet, a man who obviously places a great deal of importance on his authority, felt undermined and allegedly lashed back at the families of the bishops who removed his power.
Several of his followers broke into the houses of the Amish bishops late at night and pulled the residents out into the moonlight where they sheared the beards and hair of the individuals.
This offense is considered quite aggressive due to the religious importance the Amish believe the Bible places on hair. Because of this, the prosecution is pushing for this to be tried as a hate crime.
Neither Mullet nor his followers deny that the actions took place. In fact, after questioning, they turned over a disposable camera to the police that contained photographs of the acts taking place. They argue, however, that they have the religious freedoms to discipline the settlement when and where they see fit.
On September 30th, sixteen Amish were found guilty of hate crimes against their Amish peers who believed that their actions were brash and unjust. With appeals, this trial is expected to carry on for at least a full year with the defense claiming that their religion gives them vindication for their acts and that the government is out of line in their attempt to be disciplinarians.
However uncommon this sort of case may be, it begs the much larger question of the definition of religious freedom. This question harkens back to the 2009 trial against Dale and Leilani Neumann, parents of Kara Neumann, an 11-year-old girl from Weston, Wisconsin who died of diabetes. The Neumann’s religion tells them that God, and not doctors, decides the fate of mankind. Therefore, when Kara fell ill, her parents prayed instead of seeking medical help and treating Kara’s disease, ultimately leading to her death.
With the country rapidly changing with technology, religious extremists such as the Neumanns are left by the wayside. As evidenced by recent jury verdicts, tolerance for religious immunity is low, and while at one point these actions could be protected by the principle of freedom of religion, they are now being seen as negligent.
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Image from http://www.hlntv.com.