Steel(ers) Wheels

Daniel Zimmerman is embedded with the simplicity of his life and his history.  As an Old Order Mennonite living in Mitchell County (in north central Iowa), you won’t find Zimmerman and his family, or any of the 120 families in the Mennonite community with HDTV’s, cell phones, or cars.  But you will find them using other means of transportation, like tractors and the horse-and-buggy.

Zimmerman’s son, Matthew, needed to run a few errands, so he hops on the Massey-Ferguson 1135, an older model tractor, and drives it down County Road B-17.

Massey-Ferguson 1135, circa 1974

If you thought that banning teens from texting while driving is going to be a no-no, Matthew Zimmerman’s dilemma has now become an interesting situation.  Matthew was pulled over by a Mitchell County Sheriff’s deputy and was cited for unauthorized use of metal tires or track, failure to use required towing equipment, failure to display reflective device on a slow-moving vehicle, and a violation of Mitchell County’s road protection ordinance.

The tractor he was driving had steel wheels, which is banned under Ordinance #41, which prohibits steel wheels on hard-surface roads.  Only rubber wheels are allowed.  The Mennonites, and the Amish who also lives in Mitchell County, adhere to their religious beliefs and have never put rubber tires on their tractors or horse-and-buggy.

These are what steel wheels look like on a tractor. Courtesy of the Des Moines Register.

Young Matthew Zimmerman was fined $10 after an appearance in court on Friday.  But, that isn’t going to prevent a showdown between the Mennonites and Mitchell County over the U.S. Constitution.  Defense attorney Colin Murphy argues Mitchell County’s ban is “unconstitutional on its face” because it runs counter to the free exercise clauses of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Iowa Constitution.

The Mennonites claim that the steel wheels ban was primarily targeted at them.  Mitchell County disagrees with that notion, holding firm that the usage of steel wheels, by anyone, including the Mennonites, would severely damage the roads, thus making them unsafe to drive on.  Matthew could face 30 days in jail and a $500 fine if he is convicted of violating the ordinance.  The $10 ticket was dropped in exchange for a plea of guilty for not having a tow chain as required.  Murphy asked for the charge for violating Ordinance #41 dropped, but that request was over-ruled.

Attorney Colin Murphy (left) and Matthew Zimmerman (right) during a hearing in Mitchell County courtroom. (Dennis Magee/Courier)

Question:  should the laws and ordinances passed by the county or the state be applied to groups who are bound by their religious beliefs, just as they are to non-Mennonites and Amish?  Or do the Mennonites have a legit case to stand on, favoring the laws of their religion over that of Mitchell County?

What should both sides do?  I would love to read your comments about this unusual case.

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