Hutterites in court case over workers' compensation law
April 26, 2012
Montana business groups say Hutterite colonies should pay the same level of workers' compensation coverage as other businesses in Montana.
Hutterites say that requirement is against their religious beliefs.
That argument is being heard in the Montana Supreme Court, starting this week in Helena.
There are several Hutterite colonies in Montana, and they produce a wide variety of services and crops, from chickens to construction. As Protestants, the religious affiliation is similar to Amish or Mennonite. Ron Nelson is an attorney for the Big Sky Hutterite Colony near Cut Bank. He says the Hutterites should not be held liable to pay for workers' compensation insurance on their construction crews, which compete against Montana businesses that do pay for coverage.
Not having to pay coverage for insurance — or even wages to their workers — means they can undercut Montana businesses, the other side claims.
The Montana Supreme Court on Wednesday heard testimony by the colony and the state on whether religious organizations are required to hold workers' compensation insurance. In 2009 a Montana judge said they don't. In fact, that judge said tthe workers' compensation law violated their right to freely exercise their religion.
The state is now asking the Supreme court to overturn that decision. Hutterites came to the Montana and Dakotas after immigrating from Germany, eastern Europe and Russia where they were said to be discriminated against for their religious beliefs.