According to the morning paper, sixteen members of an Amish sect in Ohio have rejected plea bargains which would have reduced their potential jail time from 20+ years to two or three years. Some may even have been eligible for parole.
Their crime? Cutting the beards and hair of fellow church members in order to send a message that they should be ashamed of themselves for the way they were treating fellow Amish! Because short hair and beards are considered to be deeply offensive in the Amish culture, U.S. prosecutors have decided this was a hate crime!
So what is a hate crime? According to Wikipedia, current statutes permit federal prosecution of hate crimes committed on the basis of a person's protected characteristics of race, religion, ethnicity, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability.
I suppose an argument could be made that the current crime is an attack on the religion of the victims, but I can't quite buy that. This was not a crime against the religion – the defendants are of the same religion as the victims – but retribution for not following the behavior expected of members of the religion.
It is as if a Catholic priest refused to serve communion to any members who used birth control – I doubt very much that this would be considered a hate crime.
But even if a case can be made that it truly falls under the hate crime statutes, 20 years for cutting a man's beard seems to be a travesty of the “let the punishment fit the crime” principle of criminal justice. While a beardless Amish man may be deeply mortified, it's not like he was physically harmed in any way. The beard will grow back, and as the ancient saying goes, “This too shall pass.”
Also in this morning's news is an article about a man who received a sentence of 10 years for repeatedly raping a 5-year-old boy. And these guys face a 20 year sentence for cutting a man's beard. Give me a break!
Whatever happened to the separation of church and state?