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Court: Hutterites must pay workers' compensation

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 1, 2013 at 12:15 pm •  Published: January 1, 2013

"Apparently, henceforth, 'no law' prohibiting the free exercise of religion does not actually mean 'no law' in Montana. Rather, it means no law, except to the extent that the law greases the squeaky wheel of a powerful industry," Nelson wrote.

Justices Jim Rice and Patricia Cotter also dissented, with Rice saying the decision gives the appearance the law applies equally to all employers, but it is specifically targeted at the Hutterites — noting the legislative debate of the bill focused solely on that religious group.

"Had this been the status of religious freedom in 1620, the Pilgrims may well have sailed right by," Rice wrote.

The ruling doesn't address the religious tenets the Hutterites would be forced to violate to participate in the system, nor does it recognize how intertwined their religion and communal living is, Rice wrote.

Morris wrote that a colony member could refrain from filing a claim or share a claim award with the rest of the colony. Nothing prevents the colony from excommunicating a member who receives compensation and refuses to turn it over, so there is no interference with the religious practices, Morris wrote.

Rice responded that such a system would force the Hutterites to pay insurance for which they would never receive any benefit, "the very definition of illusory coverage that 'defies logic' and violates public policy."

Hundreds of Hutterite colonies are scattered across Canada, from Manitoba to British Columbia. In the U.S., there are colonies in Montana, South Dakota, North Dakota, Minnesota, Washington and Oregon.

There are about 50 colonies in Montana, with an average of about 100 people on each colony, according to a state report from 2010.