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March/April 2008

Discover more articles from this issue.

Thought And Crime

On July 1, 2007, Satendar Singh, a 26-year-old Sikh American was attacked by a group of six men while enjoying an early Independence Day picnic with...

Candor And Civility

Academic freedom, as an idea and as a way of life, has entered its second century in a moment of political, economic, and military turmoil with distinct...

The Word Unchained

Screening books and other materials available to prison inmates on the basis of their potential to incite violence and for sexually explicit content has...

The Man on the White Horse!

Time for the cavalry? Since 9/11 it seems we've been living out a darker model of action. Sort of like the ill-famed charge of the Light Brigade in the...

True to Soul Liberty

For over two centuries, our nation has enjoyed the liberties envisioned by such Founding Fathers as Madison, Jefferson, Adams, and Franklin. Our...

No Pictures, Please

Legislation requiring photo identification of all drivers, passed in 2003 by the Alberta government, may soon see the demise of a small agrarian sector...

A Church-State Judgement Call

On Monday, October 1, 2007, six Supreme Court justices attended the 54th Annual "Red Mass" at the Cathedral of St. Matthew, and there is reason to feel...

Pray Tell

If it were possible for a politician to sue voters for religious discrimination, Mitt Romney would have an open-and-shut case against the Republican...

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Published in the March/April 2008 Magazine
by Elfriede Volk

Legislation requiring photo identification of all drivers, passed in 2003 by the Alberta government, may soon see the demise of a small agrarian sector of this prairie province of Canada. After all, the ability to drive is necessary in a farming operation, for the farmer has to be able to get supplies and feed for his cattle, as well as take his crops to market. Yet some German-speaking Hutterites, who fled Russia at the end of the nineteenth century to find religious freedom in Canada, believe that having their picture taken voluntarily is a sin, contravening their understanding of the second commandment.

Although driver's licenses issued since the mid-1970s have included a photograph of the driver, an exception was made for those with sincere religious objections. In 2003, however, the Alberta government decided to make photo ID on licenses mandatory in order to prevent identity theft and boost security against possible terrorist attacks. Peace-loving Hutterites from the Wilson Colony near Coaldale felt it was against their religious convictions to have their pictures taken, and as a result licensed drivers in the colony declined by attrition from 37 to 15 as expiring licenses were not renewed.

Taking their case to court, the Wilson Hutterites recently won a victory, as Justice Sal LoVecchio of the Alberta Court of Queen's Bench ruled in their favor. However, the decision of the jurors was not unanimous. Some felt that, with the availability of trucking services, the Hutterites could still continue their farming operations even if no one in the colony had a valid driver's license.

The Alberta government appealed the case to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Hutterites themselves are also split on the issue and LoVecchio's decision. Mark Waldner, from another colony, says that "some Hutterites, including myself, contend that. . . as long as we don't make an idol out of those 'images' we aren't trespassing the commandment." When my family visited a colony near Ponoka 30 years ago, we found the young ladies eager to have their picture taken with us, and they gave us their names and addresses so that we could send them the prints when they were developed.

So what is the problem? Why do some strenuously object to having their pictures taken while others welcomed the opportunity? Is having a driver's license a right? Is it necessary for the survival of a farming community? Hutterites believe in the greater good for more people. Would having picture identification on their licenses ensure security and public safety for more people? Canada's top judges will have to wrestle with a fair way to apply the rights of this very private group.

It is informative for an outside observer to look closely at how the Hutterites arrived at their objection of faith.

Although the Hutterites learn English in school, they still converse among themselves and have their services in Low German. At the end of the nineteenth century, when the Hutterites came to Canada, Luther's translation of the Bible was the one used almost exclusively. Here the second commandment contains a prohibition against making a Bildnis. Bild is the German word for "picture," so one can see how some obtained their belief that having picture identification would be a sin. But we must also remember that Luther worked on his translation alone and may have missed some of the nuances of the Hebrew language.

Since then, in 1909, the Elberfeld translation was issued by R. Brockhaus. In this translation the prohibition is against making a geschnitztes Bild , or "carved picture" or image. This is more in line with the original pesel, which means "graven, cut, or hewn image." Reading the rest of the commandment makes it clear that it concerns making and worshipping these things, as Waldner realized.

Elfriede Volk is a freelance writer living in Summerland, British Columbia, Canada.

Author: Elfriede Volk

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