The culprits in the Amish beard-cutting incident have been convicted of federal conspiracy and hate crimes and could face decades in prison. I’m not a fan of the “hate” category for crimes—if something is a crime, it’s a crime; we don’t need to invoke hatred to make it illegal or bad. In this case, though, I wonder if prosecutors applied the hate crime law to bridge the gap between the crime’s intrinsic damage and its psychological damage.
A long prison sentence seems like overkill for the crime of cutting off someone’s beard and hair, but to the Amish people, the humiliation that results is extreme. I don’t like the idea of the U.S. justice system incorporating religious ideology into its decision-making, and the prosecutors would probably agree. But it also seems clear that the offenders committed a grave injustice against their victims that outstrips the bare physical effects. If I grabbed a random person off the street and gave him a forcible haircut, my crime would be much less severe.
Charging Samuel Mullet and his followers with hate crime maintains the delicate balance between remaining religiously neutral and meting out justice in proportion to the offense. Of course, we have yet to see what justice the court will mete out: sentencing is scheduled for January 24.
And I still don’t like “hate crime”.