Sam Mullet, 13 Amish followers exempted from compulsory prison school classes

The Plain Dealer, Ohio/May 22, 2013

Cleveland - Imprisoned Amish bishop Samuel Mullet and 13 of his Ohio followers are no longer compelled to attend high school equivalency classes, U.S. Bureau of Prisons officials announced Wednesday.

A spokeswoman said lawyers for the prisons bureau reviewed the issue this week and decided to exempt Mullet and his followers from a policy requiring the classes for inmates who lack high school diplomas.

"We consider requests for exemptions on a case-by-case basis," added Traci Billingsley, the bureau's chief of public affairs.

The reversal came four days after a lawyer for Mullet told The Plain Dealer that the prison system's policy of compulsory education violated his client's First Amendment right to freedom of religion.

Lawyer Edward Bryan said Wednesday that the prisons' curriculum of reading, math and written expression is a well-intentioned and a good way to rehabilitate most inmates - but not the Amish.

"The problem was that it really went against the belief system of the Amish," Bryan said. "Anyone who understands the First Amendment realizes this wasn't right."

Mullet and members of his breakaway farming community 100 miles southeast of Cleveland were convicted in September in connection with beard- and hair-cutting attacks on their perceived religious and family enemies.

The 67-year-old bishop is serving a 15-year term at a prison in Texarkana, Texas. His co-defendants are in other federal prisons across the country. All were convicted of committing federal hate crimes.

Bryan has filed more than a half-dozen court motions on behalf of Mullet and his imprisoned followers, seeking the bishop's release and the relocation of his followers to prisons nearer their families.

In objecting last week to the compulsory education policy, Bryan cited a 1972 U.S. Supreme Court decision that said Amish children only had to attend classes through the eighth grade.

Prison officials initially declined to comment on Bryan's objection, but provided The Plain Dealer with the written policy governing education of inmates.

The policy states that most inmates without a high school diploma are required to obtain a general education degree. Exceptions are made for inmates who have emotional, mental or physical impediments, or who face deportation.

Bryan said prisons officials threatened the Amish inmates with discipline - including solitary confinement - if they refused the schooling.

U.S. Attorney Steven Dettelbach, whose office prosecuted the high-profile Amish case, said Wednesday that he was satisfied with the outcome.

"I'm glad to see the Bureau of Prisons is affording Mr. Mullet the religious freedom he violently denied to others," Dettelbach said.

Bryan said the protests over the prison classes ran against the Amish inmates' passive nature.

"These are decent, honorable people who are not out to cause problems," he said. "They're all model prisoners, and by nature extremely compliant. If someone orders them to do something they're going to do it."

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