Ohio Crimes Prevention Act is constitutional and covers intra-religious violence

Howard Friedman, Religion Clause

In United States v. Mullet, (ND OH, May 31, 2012), an Ohio federal district court upheld the constitutionality of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act against commerce clause and First Amendment challenges.  The case involves the indictment of 16 members of an Amish community led by Sam Mullet who are charged with attacking and cutting off the beards and hair of members of a rival Amish community who did not comply with Mullet’s directives. (See prior posting.) The court held that because the Hate Crimes law requires an explicit nexus between defendants conduct and interstate commerce, it is a constitutional exercise of Congress’ lawmaking power. The court also rejected a claim that the statute infringes defendants’ freedom of expression and free exercise of religion, saying that “the First Amendment has never been construed to protect acts of violence against another individual, regardless of the motivation or belief of the perpetrator.”  The court rejected defendants’ claim that the Hate Crimes Prevention Act does not cover intra-religious violence. The court said:

While hate crimes are often committed by members of one religious (or racial or ethnic) group against another, history is replete with examples of internecine violence. 

Finally, the court rejected the argument that the Hate Crimes Prevention Act violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. AP reports on the decision.