Old Order's steel wheels at odds with law in IowaBy Mennonite Weekly Review staff
OSAGE, Iowa — After the Iowa Supreme Court got involved, Groffdale Conference Old Order Mennonites and Mitchell County officials thought they might be able to sit down together and draft a compromise.
It turns out middle ground doesn’t exist, and now Iowa state patrol troopers will be hired as “special investigators” to seek out violators of a controversial law banning steel wheels on county roads.
Old Order Mennonites say the prohibition violates their religious beliefs and keeps them from accessing their fields and markets.
In an effort to promote community over individualism, Groffdale Conference prohibits rubber tires to discourage usage of tractors for running errands or shopping, which could lead to the use of trucks and cars.
The county has spent nearly $16 million paving roads since 2009.
According to the Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier, county supervisors and Mennonite residents met Nov. 8 to discuss a compromise. Supervisors were willing to sometimes allow steel wheels if rubber tires were used during high-traffic times of the year.
Dan Zimmerman of Orchard spoke with Old Order Mennonite national leaders.
“Over the last 40 years, the ministry [church leadership] have repeatedly upheld and affirmed the use of steel wheels … it is not a matter of individual choice, but is something that is required for all members in good standing with the church. We need to answer to God before man,” said Zimmerman in a statement shared with county supervisors.
He said unless there is “a groundswell of support among church members,” the rule would not change.
Supervisor board chair Joel Voaklander said he thought that support might yet happen.
“We are going to protect our roads,” he said. “I think you’re going to have some discontented [church] members pretty quick.”
The county discussed a variety of enforcement strategies before settling on fines that are higher than those used by similar state laws. The Courier reported county supervisors have also discussed taking offending tractors into forfeiture and are waiting to hear from an attorney whether Iowa law would allow the tactic.
In October, the Iowa Supreme Court heard the case of 13-year-old Matthew Zimmerman, who was found guilty of violating the ordinance. Zimmerman claims the ordinance violates his religious freedom and requested the case be dismissed.
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