Constitutional Law: Free Exercise of Religion


Big Sky Colony, Inc. v. Dep't of Labor & Industry [12/31/12] 2012 MT 320 The workers’ compensation system generally applies to all employers engaged in commercial activities.  The inclusion of religious organizations that engage in commercial activities within this system does not single out religious beliefs, nor does their inclusion regulate or prohibit any conduct because it is undertaken for religious reasons.

Big Sky Colony, Inc. v. Dep't of Labor & Industry [12/31/12] 2012 MT 320 The amendment to § 39-71-117(1)(d), MCA, brought about in HB 119, which clarified that religious corporations, organizations, or trusts which engage in commercial activities but do not pay “wages” to their members for labor on these commercial activities, still qualify as “employers” for purposes of the workers’ compensation system if they receive remuneration from nonmembers.  HB 119 does not lose its facial neutrality or shed its secular purpose due to the fact that it sought to include Hutterite colonies’ commercial activities within the scope of the workers’ compensation system.

Big Sky Colony, Inc. v. Dep't of Labor & Industry [12/31/12] 2012 MT 320 Requiring workers’ compensation coverage does not place a Hutterite colony in a discriminatory position compared to other religious groups who might choose to engage in similar activity.  Therefore, the Montana Supreme Court rejected a strict scrutiny analysis of the statutory changes brought about in HB 119 and instead applied the standard that the requirement be facially neutral and serve a secular purpose in order to survive a Free Exercise challenge.  The court further held that the requirement must impose only an incidental burden on religious conduct as opposed to a prohibition on that conduct.

Big Sky Colony, Inc. v. Dep't of Labor & Industry [12/31/12] 2012 MT 320 The requirement that a religious corporation provide workers’ compensation coverage for its members differs from an outright ban of an activity central to the religion’s faith.  Requiring workers’ compensation coverage does not prohibit members of a Hutterite colony from engaging in commercial activities, but rather regulates those activities in the same manner that the workers’ compensation system regulates the commercial activities of other employers in Montana.  The colony, like all other Montana employers, simply makes less money once it pays its premiums.


(VanHorn) Killion v. State Fund [4/22/99] 1999 MTWCC 30 Section 39-71-721(5), MCA, which provides that workers' compensation benefits to a surviving spouse terminate upon remarriage, does not violate constitutional provisions prohibiting the state from establishing religion or preventing the free exercise thereof. The statute is religiously neutral and simply reflects the fact that Montana laws create legal obligations between husband and wife, attempting to provide replacement income for the loss of support upon the death of a spouse.