Drivers in a couple Hutterite colonies in Alberta may start driving illegally. Last July, the two colonies lost their appeal to the Canadian Supreme Court to be exempt from the provincial requirement that photos were required for their driver’s licenses. They believe that the requirement violates their religious freedom, and they feel strongly that they must obey the second commandment in the Bible, which prohibits graven images.
The manager of the Three Hills Colony, Sam Wurz, announced at the end of last week that, as the temporary licenses issued by the province run out, colony drivers will continue to refuse to violate their consciences and they will, of necessity, continue to drive their vehicles. He said that living according to God’s commands was more important to them then following the rules and regulations of men.
The colony, joined by the Wilson Colony near Lethbridge, had contested in the Canadian courts provincial regulations requiring photo IDs on all driver’s licenses. In May 2006, they won at the local court level, and, a year later, after the province appealed to the superior court, the Hutterites won again. But the province appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada, where it finally triumphed last July.
The two sides have been negotiating since then, but the province refuses to back down on the essence of its ruling—that all driver’s licenses must have photos on them. Hutterites in the two colonies refuse to compromise their beliefs. Having some drivers is essential to the colonies.
Mr. Wurtz said that 20 members of his colony used to have valid driver’s license, but most of them have now expired. Many of them are already driving without legal licenses. The province has continued to reject compromise suggestions that other forms of identification might be used—fingerprints or special pouches that would hide the licenses. Cam Traynor, spokesperson for Service Alberta, said that the province is “still open to hearing ideas from the colony leaders on how to accommodate them, [but] none of the ideas they brought forward meet the requirements for an Alberta driver’s license. Until there are any new ideas that come forward that would fit within the law, I don’t think there’s any more room for discussion at this point.”
Traynor added, pointedly, “Anyone who drives in the province with an expired driver’s license or without a driver’s license is subject to the penalties of the law.”
Wurz responds that the members of the two colonies face a difficult decision. “You’re at the mercy of a government which will not reason with us and we have to obey the government,” he said. “We even pray for our government every evening in our church, but if the government puts a yoke on your neck and wants more than our religion will allow us to do, then we have to obey God more than man, and if they lock us up in jail I guess we’ll be locked up in jail.”
He says it has been the government that has rejected their attempts to reach a compromise. He told the press that the Hutterites have a lengthy history of disobeying laws that contradict their beliefs. It is not clear if he added that they have obeyed their consciences for nearly 500 years—and ultimately, moved to avoid persecution.