The Courts and the Colonies
400 pages, 6 x 9
Release Date:01 Feb 2005
Release Date:01 Oct 2004
Release Date:01 Oct 2007

The Courts and the Colonies

The Litigation of Hutterite Church Disputes

SERIES: Law and Society
UBC Press

The Courts and the Colonies offers a detailed account of a protracted dispute arising within a Hutterite colony in Manitoba, when the Schmiedeleut leaders attempted to force the departure of a group that had been excommunicated but would not leave. This resulted in about a dozen lawsuits in both Canada and the United States between various Hutterite factions and colonies, and placed the issues of shunning, excommunication, legitimacy of leadership, and communal property rights before the secular courts. What is the story behind this extraordinary development in Hutterite history? How did the courts respond, and how did that outside (state) law relate to the traditional inside law of the Hutterites?

Utilizing voluminous court records, Esau provides a detailed and fascinating narrative of the prolonged disputes and litigation history of Hutterite colonies at Lakeside, Oak Bluff, Rock Lake, and Huron. He considers whether the legal action was consistent with the historic non-resistance of Hutterites or whether it signaled a fundamental change in norms of Anabaptist perspectives on litigation. He examines the past history of Hutterite litigation, and how the roots of the schism related to controversy over the Schmiedeleut leadership and its alliance with the Bruderhof, a group of Christian communalists, living mainly in the Eastern United States. At stake is the nature of freedom of religion in Canada and the extent to which our pluralistic society is prepared to accommodate the existence of groups that have an illiberal legal system that may not cohere with the outside legal system of the host society.

While this book will be of particular interest to scholars of law and religion, it will also appeal to anyone in Anabaptist studies, sociology, anthropology, political theory, and conflict resolution.


  • 2005, Shortlisted - Margaret McWilliams Award, Manitoba Historical Society
A good read. J. Mark Ramseyer, Harvard Law School, The Mennonite Quarterly Review
The Courts and the Colonies is an informative discussion ... It is a valuable addition to Hutterite studies specifically ... more generally the book has important things to say about the legal status of all communal religious societies in North America. Rod Janzen, School of Humanities, Religion and Social Sciences, Fresno Pacific University, Great Plains Research, vol 16, no.1, Spring 2006
[The Courts and the Colonies] was riveting, and we found it hard to put down each night when time came to turn off the light and catch forty winks. Anglicans Online
Anyone thinking the secular courts can solve a church conflict should read this book before launching such action. It is a sobering cautionary tale. Presbyterian History
Esau’s references to these factors in the social and economic context and his understanding of the theological issues supplement his thorough analysis of the legal issues and specifically the question of freedom for religious groups. Together, they make this a most valuable book. William Janzen, Ottawa Office of Mennonite Central Committee Canada, Canadian Historical Review
This landmark study explores the irony of pacifist Hutterites using the courts to solve an internal conflict. It is a major contribution to scholarship on Anabaptist communities. Carefully researched and judiciously fair, Esau’s study provides a rare view inside Hutterite life and conflict. Donald B. Kraybill, Senior Fellow, The Young Center for Anabaptist Studies at Elizabethtown College and author of On the Backroad to Heaven
Alvin J. Esau is Professor in the Faculty of Law at the University of Manitoba.



Part One: Background

1 The Hutterites

2 The Bruderhof

Part Two: The Inside Law on Going to Outside Law: Hutterite Litigation before the Lakeside

Case 3. The Inside Law against Going to Outside Law

4 Hutterite Litigation before Lakeside

Part Three: The Lakeside Litigation: Round One

5 Daniel Hofer, Hog Feeders and Excommunication

6 Going to Court

7 Lakeside under Appeal

Part Four: The Schism in the Schmiedeleut and Lakeside Litigation: Round Two

8 Lakeside and the Schism within the Schmiedeleut

9 Litigating Again at Lakeside

Part Five: Litigating, Leaving, and Sometimes Dividing: Lakeside and Other Schmiedeleut Schisms

10 Litigating at Rock Lake, Huron, Cypress, Sprucewood, Poinsett, and Leaving Lakeside

11 Agreeing to Divide Assets, Further Schism, and Yet More Litigation

Part Six: Concluding Reflections: The Interaction between Outside Law and Inside Law

12 Concluding Reflections: Models of Inside Law and Outside Law Interaction

Appendix: Male Genealogy of Lakeside Families



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