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Some mennonite businesses against exemption

January 17, 2000|By LAURA ERNDE

Several local Mennonite business people said Monday they would not sign up for a proposed exemption from the Maryland workers' compensation law.

A local Mennonite group has asked to be exempted from the law because it's against their religion to collect a claim.

Sen. Alex X. Mooney, R-Frederick/Washington, has drafted a bill but hasn't decided whether to pursue the legislation.

Some Mennonite business owners in the Hagerstown area said being enrolled in the workers' compensation program is an essential part of doing business.

"We're just ordinary business people like everybody else," said Marshall Martin, owner of Wilson Sew & Vac in Leitersburg.

"It is very important. It protects the employee, that's the main thing," said Alvin Martin, who employs both Mennonite and non-Mennonite workers at Martin's Elevator in Hagerstown.

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Alvin Martin said he doesn't know of any Mennonite-owned businesses that would support the law, which was requested by the Washington County and Franklin County, Pa., Mennonite Conference.

Richard Shank of Copyquik Printing & Graphics of Hagerstown also doubts there is widespread support for such an exemption in the Mennonite community.

"I feel that every business has both a moral and legal responsibility to pay the expenses of employees injured at work. I personally want to see that all my employees which may become injured be compensated, and the present law is the only equitable way I see to do this. I have no interest in shirking my responsibility as a citizen," Shank wrote to the newspaper.

Mary Wilfong, owner of Martin's Fine Furniture in Hagerstown, said she, too, participates in workers' compensation.

As a member of a nonconservative branch of the faith, Wilfong said her beliefs don't prohibit her from joining insurance programs such as workes's compensation.

But she said she can understand why some smaller businesses, owned by conservative Mennonites, would seek the exemption. They pay into the fund but don't collect benefits, she said.

"If they don't use it, why would we charge them for it? The rest of us would benefit from it," she said.

Mennonites traditionally help each other during times of catastrophe.

But Shank said local Mennonite churches have no provision to compensate injured employees, especially those who don't belong to the church.

Pennsylvania already allows for a religious exemption. The employer has to fill out an application and the employees must agree to waive their rights based on their beliefs.

Mooney said he's waiting to hear back from state personnel who handle the program before he decides whether to file the bill.

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