It’s been some time since we’ve covered the Bergholz beard-cutters, though pieces of news have been trickling out here and there.  The trial of the 16 defendants in the case is fast approaching, with proceedings set to begin August 27.

The accused have sought certain allowances in the lead-up to the trial.  The latest objection is over language used to describe the group:

Members of a fringe Amish group charged with committing hate crimes against fellow Amish have requested that certain words, including “cult,” ‘’splinter” and “rogue,” be banned from their upcoming trial in U.S. District Court, according to court documents filed Monday (Aug. 13).

Words and labels can sway opinions.  Terms like “cult” and “sect” are heavily-charged.  We hear them and think of things like Waco, Jonestown, and Heaven’s Gate.

Beyond Bergholz, you’ll see words like “sect” and “splinter group” used to describe “regular” Amish as well.  I can usually guess the writer’s sympathies when I see these terms, particularly in newspaper headlines.

I can understand why the Bergholz legal team may wish to ban these terms, as language can influence (though I honestly don’t know how much this would affect views in this already heavily-publicized case).   I don’t have background in law so don’t know how common such a request is, or how likely it is to be granted.

However it does bring to mind the larger question of how language influences our thinking, and in what cases it may be justified to regulate it.