Cleveland: A bishop for a deeply traditional religious group in the US told a jury today that his chest-length beard was chopped close to his chin in a late-night home invasion by members of a breakaway group now accused of hate crimes.
Myron Miller, 46, told a US District Court jury that he had been concerned about cult-style "brain-washing" by the group. He testified against 16 fellow Amish in a trial notable because the Amish are usually reluctant to involve outside authorities in their affairs.
"I saw the flash of scissors right by my head," Miller said, holding up two fingers to demonstrate the open blades.
Government prosecutors say five such beard- and hair-cutting attacks are religious-based hate crimes. The defence calls them internal church discipline.
Hair and beards have spiritual significance in the Amish faith. Amish men do not shave their beards after marriage, believing it signifies their devotion to God.
"I tried to get away," said Miller, testifying how four or five men dragged him by the beard out of his farmhouse Oct. 4 and wrestled him to the ground.
Miller said the beard-cutting left him in shame. "It was humiliating," he testified. "Did I look different? Definitely."
The defendants could face lengthy prison terms if convicted on charges that include conspiracy and obstructing justice.
Attorneys for the defendants have not denied that the hair cuttings took place and said in the opening statements that members of the breakaway group took action out of compassion and concern that some Amish were straying from their beliefs Prosecutors say the leader of the breakaway group, Sam Mullet Sr., was involved in "sexual counseling" of women in his community.
He hasn`t been charged with sex-related crimes.
Mullet has denied ordering the hair-cutting but said he didn`t stop anyone from carrying it out.
Miller testified about a long-running dispute with Mullet, whose son moved to Miller`s community and later got embroiled in a child custody dispute.
Ed Bryan, defence attorney for Mullet, asked Miller whether the dispute involved personal issues instead of religious differences.
"I have nothing against Sam Mullet," Miller responded. "What`s going on in that community, or was going on, we were very concerned about interaction with any of our members."
Trying to cast the issue as personal, Bryan asked Miller about a horse-and-buggy dispute with Mullet last fall and asked, "Less than a week later your beard`s cut, right?" "Correct," Miller testified.