In our country, can a religious community live according to its tenets without interference from the government? In Montana, the state government thinks not. The Big Sky Colony is a Christian Hutterite community. These people take a vow of poverty, renounce private property, and own everything as a community. They have very little contact with the outside world.
Enter the unions. The Hutterites do not pay worker’s compensation insurance to families. The unions protested that this gave the Big Sky Colony a competitive advantage. The state legislature passed a law requiring that they pay worker’s comp. This law was directed at the Hutterites, as lawmakers attested during the legislative process. What could go wrong??
The Becket Fund is representing the Hutterites as they try to gain legal relief. As noted on the Becket Fund’s media release, nobody consulted the Hutterites as they made a law directed at them, and meant to change their behavior. The Hutterites don’t vote. As the Becket Fund notes,
Hutterites already provide comprehensive health insurance to all of their members, regardless of the reason for their injury or illness. So the law does nothing to protect Hutterite workers; its only effect is to create individual property rights and legal claims within the community, in direct violation of 500 years of Hutterite religious teaching.
The government is significantly burdening the religious freedom of these people, with the sole aim of making the unions happy.
In 2011, the 9th Judicial District Court struck down the Montana law as unconstitutional. In 2012, the Montana Supreme Court, divided 4-3, reversed the ruling. The Becket Fund has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case.