The Price of Conscience

AS THE U.S. mobilized for World War I, a wave of patriotic fervor and xenophobia swept the country. Anything German was suspect, and those who were German-speaking and refused to fight against Germany were doubly suspect. Resentment and anger were directed at Anabaptist groups; several churches were burned and pastors beaten.

Inevitably, the demands of the state conflicted with the rights of conscience. Christian pacifists who only desired to be true to their beliefs by not serving in the military faced a militarized state that saw them as disloyal and disobedient. There was no legally recognized right to conscientious objection—if drafted, the only alternative for objectors was to go into the military and then refuse to participate.

Hutterite leaders had agreed that their young men would register, but if drafted and required to report for military service, their cooperation would end. They would refuse any orders making them complicit in war. Pacifists in Chains is the story of four young men—David, Michael, and Joseph Hofer, and Jacob Wipf—from the Hutterite colony in Alexandria, S.D., who faced that choice. Duane C.S. Stoltzfus, a professor at Goshen College in Indiana, was given access to previously unpublished letters from these men to their wives and families; the book is built around those letters.

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16 Amish Found Guilty of Hate Crimes in Beard-Cutting Attacks

RNS photo by Marvin Fong/The Plain Dealer

Amish women enter the federal courthouse in Cleveland. RNS photo by Marvin Fong/The Plain Dealer

Amish bishop Samuel Mullet was convicted Sept. 20 of federal hate crimes and conspiracy for exhorting followers to forcibly shear the hair and beards of those who opposed his breakaway Ohio sect.

Mullet’s three sons, his daughter, and 11 other family members and followers from his ultra-strict Amish order 100 miles southeast of Cleveland also were convicted of conspiracy and hate crimes after a trial that attracted international attention.

The 66-year-old bishop could face life in prison for his crimes. U.S. District Judge Dan Aaron Polster scheduled sentencing hearings for Jan. 24.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Bridget Brennan said federal sentencing guidelines recommend a minimum of 17 1/2 years for the other 15 defendants given that their crimes involved violence and kidnapping.

But defense attorneys said the judge has the discretion to sentence some of Mullet’s followers to as little as time already served in jail.

Amish Bishop Describes Beard-Cutting Attack

Law officers testified Wednesday about the chaotic and bizarre scene they discovered the night of Oct. 4, 2011, when they arrived at the Holmes County, Ohio, home of Raymond Hershberger, a 79-year-old Amish bishop.

The officers recalled that clumps of gray hair lay on a rocking chair and on the floor of the living room, and a crowd of people were crying and yelling in Pennsylvania Dutch, their first language.

Hershberger’s son, Levi, told the officers that "Some guys broke in and gave Grandpa a bad haircut," a Sheriff’s Department detective said.

The testimony opened the second week of the hate-crime trial of Amish bishop Samuel Mullet Sr. and 15 of his followers. They are accused of conspiracy and kidnapping in what prosecutors describe as hair-cutting attacks on nine religious enemies and estranged family members.

Defense Team Says ‘Compassion’ Fueled Amish Beard-Cutting Attacks

CLEVELAND — No one disputes that followers of Amish bishop Samuel Mullet Sr. used horse-mane shears last year to forcibly cut the beards and hair of other members of Amish communities in rural Ohio.

Only their motivation is in dispute as Mullet and 15 of his faithful stand trial in U.S. District Court on federal hate-crime charges. Did religious bias move them to act, or did a compassionate desire to help wayward brethren return to strict Amish ways?

"Why did they do this? I know it sounds strange: Compassion," defense attorney Dean Carro told jurors Tuesday during opening statements. "No crime has been committed. These were purely good intentions."

But prosecutors showed jurors a photo of defendant Johnny Mullet using one hand to grab the long, white beard of Raymond Hershberger, a 79-year-old Amish bishop, and using the other hand to chop.

Amish beard-cutting Trial Attracts International Attention

RNS photo by Marvin Fong/The Plain Dealer

Amish women enter the federal courthouse in Cleveland today. RNS photo by Marvin Fong/The Plain Dealer

The law of God will collide with the law of man this week in a crowded federal courtroom in Cleveland, where 16 Amish defendants — 10 men with full beards, six women in white bonnets — will stand trial on charges related to a series of beard- and hair-cutting attacks against fellow Amish men and women last year.

The case has attracted national and international attention, in part because of public curiosity about the normally reclusive and peaceful Amish community, and because of the peculiar nature of the alleged crimes.

Interest also has been heightened by the fact that the federal government rather than a local prosecutor brought the charges. The case is the first in Ohio to make use of a landmark 2009 federal law that expanded government powers to prosecute hate crimes.

Judge Allows Questions on Sex Practices in Amish Beard-Cutting Case

CLEVELAND — Federal prosecutors will be allowed to question witnesses about Amish leader Sam Mullet’s sexual activities when the hate-crime trial of Mullet and 15 followers begins next week, a federal judge ruled on Monday.

U.S. District Judge Dan Aaron Polster also agreed to allow testimony about Mullet’s use of corporal punishment to control followers, but forbid prosecutors from describing his group with words such as cult, sect, clan, band, schism, faction, offshoot, breakaway, renegade, rogue, or splinter group. Witnesses, however, can use any terms they choose.

Polster’s rulings set the stage for a trial that is scheduled to begin Aug. 27 and is expected to attract national attention because of the unusual nature of the charges and the glimpse the case offers into a reclusive Amish community.

Amish Fringe Group Wants the Word ‘Cult’ be Banned From Hate-Crime Trial

CLEVELAND— Members of a fringe Amish group charged with committing hate crimes against fellow Amish have requested that certain words, including "cult," "splinter" and "rogue," be banned from their upcoming trial in U.S. District Court, according to court documents filed Monday (Aug. 13).

They also requested that any Amish called to testify "affirm the truthfulness" of their testimony rather than swear an oath because swearing an oath "would offend the witness' religious outlook."

Samuel Mullet, 66, of Jefferson County, Ohio, and 15 of his male and female followers are charged with hate crimes and cover-ups. Prosecutors accuse them of forcibly cutting the beards and hair of fellow Amish members. The attacks were designed to settle scores with people with whom Mullet and his followers had disputes, prosecutors said.

Sikh Calls for Peace Echo Amish Shooting Response

Amish boy (left) and Sikh boy (right).

Amish boy (left) and Sikh boy (right).

Like most people, I was deeply troubled by news of another mass shooting, this time at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wis., not far from Milwaukee. On the heels of the tragic massacre in Aurora, Colo., this seemed all the more savage to me, given that it took place in a house of worship.

Maybe it’s because my wife and I work in a church and are aware of such vulnerabilities every day, but my first reaction is defensiveness. I want to raise my guard, double-check the locks and do whatever I can to ensure our safety. It’s the response that makes the most sense, after all.

Or is it?

Amish Report Staggering Growth in Midwest

RNS photo by Gus Chan / The Plain Dealer

RNS photo by Gus Chan / The Plain Dealer

The Amish are one of the fastest-growing religious groups in North America, according to a new census by researchers at Ohio State University.

The study, released July 27 at the annual meeting of the Rural Sociological Society, suggests a new community sprouting every three and a half weeks.

Nearly 250,000 Amish live in the U.S. and Canada, and the population is expected to exceed 1 million around 2050.

The growth may not be visible outside Amish country, but the rural settlements definitely see the boom.