Prof. Carl H. Esbeck co-wrote a brief amici curiae filed May 2, 2013, in the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of 21 law professors.
The matter, captioned Big Sky Colony, Inc., et al. v. Montana Department of Labor and Industry, No. 12-1191, involves a petition for certiorari by a Hutterite Colony in Montana. For almost a century the Hutterites were exempt from the state’s workers’ compensation law, but that exemption has now been removed. The Hutterites immigrated to the United States and Canada in the 1870s to escape religious persecution in Russia. They live in remote religious communes consisting of several families, typically totaling 100-150 individuals. Each colony operates a communal farm where all property is held in common, all meals are taken together in a dining hall and all labor is for the colony hence no wages are paid. The arrangement is memorialized by a vow taken voluntarily when a member becomes a young adult. All Hutterites renounce any claim to property and compensation, and all necessities including health care and the aged are provided for by the collective.
A workers’ compensation regime imposes upon the colony an alien employer-employee construct, with attendant rights to claim compensation or personal property, an arrangement that explodes the Hutterite way of life. The Hutterite Vow is enforced by excommunication, yet the compensation law regards such as retaliation for the assertion of civil rights. Not only is the law unneeded because the Hutterites believe that they, not the state, must care for their own, but the law is totally incompatible with these Christian worldviews where all things, both burdens and benefits, are shared in common. The court is expected by this fall to act on the colony’s petition for certiorari.