CLEVELAND — Amish imprisoned in beard-cutting attacks on fellow Amish in Ohio have been granted a religious freedom exemption from a requirement to attend high school equivalency classes behind bars.
The U.S. Bureau of Prisons said Wednesday that Amish bishop Samuel Mullet and his followers would be exempted from the policy requiring classes for inmates who lack high school diplomas.
“We consider requests for exemptions on a case-by-case basis,” Traci Billingsley, the bureau’s chief of public affairs, told The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer (http://bit.ly/11e3K3N ).
FILE - In this April 9, 2013 file photo, Freeman Burkholder, right, takes the headpiece off of his horse in Bergholz, Ohio. Bergholder and other Amish now imprisoned in beard-cutting attacks on fellow Amish in Ohio have been granted a religious freedom exemption from a requirement to attend high-school equivalency classes behind bars. (AP Photo/Scott R. Galvin, File)
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The reversal came days after an attorney for Mullet complained that the policy of compulsory education violated his client’s First Amendment right to freedom of religion.
The 67-year-old Mullet is serving his 15-year term in a prison in Texarkana, Texas, and his co-defendants are being held in prisons across the country. The other 15 received sentences ranging from one to seven years.
Edward Bryan, a defense attorney who represented Mullet, complained that the educational requirement violated a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision that found Amish children may not be forced to attend school past eighth grade.
The prison system said earlier that the high school equivalency classes were a first step toward returning to society.
The defendants, members of an Amish sect in Bergholz near Steubenville in eastern Ohio, were convicted of hate crimes in the 2011 attacks. The government said the attacks were meant to shame fellow Amish they believed were straying from the strict religious interpretations espoused by the sect’s leader.
Prosecutors said the defendants targeted beards and women’s hair because they carry spiritual significance.
The defendants are appealing the case before the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati.