The religious beliefs of victims of alleged beard- and hair-cutting attacks in Ohio Amish country are what matters in the case, not those of the defendants, a federal judge ruled Thursday in rejecting the defendants’ challenges of the federal hate crimes law.

The defendants, who include 16 members of an eastern Ohio breakaway Amish group, argued the alleged attacks last fall weren’t hate crimes but internal church disciplinary matters not involving anti-Amish bias. The defendants also argued that the federal hate crime law violates their First Amendment rights of religious expression.

U.S. District Court Judge Dan Polster said the defendants’ use of the First Amendment claim was offensive, given that the Constitution allows the defendants “to maintain their religious beliefs and practices, which are so different from the beliefs and practices of most Americans.”

“In fact, violent acts of the kind charged in the superseding indictment are designed to punish individuals who exercise their religious beliefs, or to chill others from doing so,” he wrote.

Polster noted that First Amendment rights exempt the Amish from certain requirements of citizens, such as jury service.

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