WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) - Up to 10 colonies of the strict Christian Hutterite sect say they face religious persecution from the Canadian province of Alberta's plan to force them to have their photos on driver's licenses and may leave Alberta rather than comply.
Canada's Supreme Court ruled Friday in favor of the Alberta government, which had appealed an exception the Hutterite colonies had won through the courts to a provincial law that requires photos on driver's licenses. The Alberta colonies take literally the Bible's Second Commandment against making images, although other colonies do not.
"The 10 Commandments were written in stone and they should last forever," said Samuel Wurz, manager of the Three Hills Colony. " ...If you start to give in to one thing, next thing the government would want to come take our children to public schools or have our young people go to war."
The Alberta government has promised to meet with colony representatives to discuss the matter. If it doesn't agree to leave the colonies exempt, they will consider leaving Alberta or ignoring the law, Wurz said.
The only compromise the Alberta government is willing to make is to allow Hutterites to wait until their licenses expire to comply, said Heather Klimchuk, the Alberta minister responsible for licensing drivers. Photo ID helps prevent identity theft, she said.
She declined to say how the Alberta government will enforce the photo requirement. "I am confident we'll all end up at the same page once all the (photoless) licenses have expired," she said.
Hutterites are a pacifist Christian movement dating back to the Reformation of the 1500s that fled Europe due to religious persecution. The Three Hills and Wilson colonies, which have led Hutterite opposition to the photo requirement, moved to Alberta in 1918 from South Dakota after the American government tried to force Hutterites to fight in World War One.
Before they moved north, the Canadian government promised it would allow Hutterites to freely practice their religion, Wurz said.
Provincial governments in Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario make exceptions to driver photo laws for their Hutterite populations, but Klimchuk said the Alberta law treats everyone equally.
"I'm not really sure where they're going to go if in the United States you have to have picture ID to cross the border," she said.
If the 10 colonies, which make up a combined 1,000 people, including 200 with licenses, left Alberta, they would leave a void in grain and livestock production, Wurz said. Three Hills Hutterites farm 6,000 acres of grain and also have dairy cattle and sheep, he said.
The colony is eight miles from the nearest town, making it dependent on vehicle transportation, Wurz said.
Editing by Peter Galloway