By Peter J. Mikkelson, Guest Columnist
Recently, the subject of the Amish and their failure to use slow moving vehicle signs has reappeared in Todd County.
KSAX Television out of Alexandria had a two-part segment on the issue, and there was a “Guest Columnist” article in the Peach and the Morrison County Record written by Dean Meiners of Clarissa.
Once again, a small vocal group of citizens have been critical of my position on this issue. In the KSAX segments, I have been the subject of unfair criticism from local politicians who stated that it is “fairly apparent that that (enforcement) is not going on right now.”
As chief law enforcement officer and your county sheriff, it is my duty to protect all of the citizens of Todd County. This means protecting the safety of the citizens, protecting the Constitution, and protecting all from civil liability. That is what I have been doing. For that, I feel that I have been the subject of unfair criticism.
I have decided not to enforce the statute because of a Minnesota Supreme Court ruling in State v. Hershberger. This was a Fillmore County case in the late 1980’s where it was determined that the Amish do not have to use the slow moving vehicle symbol because it is against their religious beliefs. I recently confirmed this by consulting with Legal Counsel Richard Hodsdon with the Minnesota Sheriff’s Association.
He advised that State v. Hershberger is a Minnesota Supreme Court ruling based upon the First Amendment. He advised that this is still good law as it held that the Constitution prohibits charging an Amish person for failure to use the bright color slow moving vehicle signal or the alternative black and white version (2001 Legislation).
Hodsdon went on to advise that “in light of this decision that was decided based upon the United States Constitution, if you (Law Enforcement) did arrest, cite or otherwise take enforcement action against an Amish person protected by the statute, you would face significant civil liability.
“Under 42 USC 1983, once a court declares the matter subject to First Amendment protections, should you take enforcement actions against those covered by this case, you and the acting deputies could face major civil liability.”
Hodsdon went on to explain that if the County Board ordered the Sheriff’s Office to take enforcement action, that the county and its board members could face a personal lawsuit for establishing a policy that violates the constitutional First Amendment rights of these persons.
I have met with Amish citizens throughout the county and have asked them to do whatever they can within their faith and within the law to make themselves, and all of us safe.
The law is clear. I cannot make them use the slow moving vehicle sign. This is America where all citizens have constitutional protections that grant each of us freedom of religion.
When I took my oath as sheriff I swore to defend the Constitution, and I will stand by that sacred oath.
Peter J. Mikkelson is the Todd County sheriff.