Meet the Hutterites: Does religious freedom include denying children an education?

Mechele R. Dillard's picture

Is forcing children to remain uneducated - so they will hopefully be unable to leave King Colony - an act of religious freedom or an outright denial of these kids' rights as Americans?

“The choice between your child getting an education or your being able to go to church is no choice at all.”

So said Wesley on Meet the Hutterites.

Rita and Bertha Hofer are members of the King Colony of Hutterites, featured on the National Geographic Channel show, Meet the Hutterites. Their sons, Anthony and Carver, respectively, were going to high school—an action frowned upon by the elders of the colony. The colony does have a school on the property, but on this point they were very clear: It goes only to the level of 8th grade. Grades beyond this are not thought necessary for life on the Hutterite colony and, therefore, not provided. If children are to go to high school, they must do so in the so-called "English" world, i.e. outside of King Colony--an action not permitted by the colony, at least beyond the age of 15; playing sports is, it seems, absolutely forbidden. Having found out that Anthony and Carver were attending high school and playing sports, the elders, who apparently reside in a Hutterite colony in Canada, descended upon the Montana King Colony, and shunned the two women for allowing their sons to pursue an education.


Apparently so.

During the episode, another Hutterite parent, Ben, demanded that his teenage daughter, Tammy, stay home from school to attend to church work—cleaning the colony, apparently, is more important to Ben than his daughter getting a high school diploma. “You’re up in that age now. You gotta be with the women,” Ben demanded to his daughter. “Colony work, then school. … And that’s it.”

Is this what “freedom of religion” was meant to be?

Shunning is the worst punishment put upon Hutterites. Rita and Bertha were not allowed to interact with anyone; their jobs were taken away; they were not even permitted to eat with other members of the colony.

All for allowing their children to go to school.

The interesting twist is that Wesley, Rita’s older son, and Claudia, Bertha’s older daughter, both finished high school, apparently without incident. Wesley even got a college degree in Business Administration and Law via an online university program. So, that begs another question:

Now that King Colony is the subject of a reality television show, was the shunning situation for dramatic effect?

The colony members talking about education seem passionate about the kids not needing more than an 8th grade education, which is what they themselves have, at best. They shouldn’t be mixing with the world, they say; they should be living in the colony, working and freeing tractors from the mud, not concerning themselves with algebra and other things they may encounter in grades 9-12—worthless endeavors, they indicate--and taking the orders of the elders mindlessly, without question. Of course, in this way, they try to force the kids to have no other option but to stay in the colony, as they themselves were forced. Ben’s wife, Marie, told told their daughter, Tammy, who said she was beginning to want out of the Hutterite fish bowl, “As far as I’m concerned you will never leave the colony, Tammy.”


Freedom of Religion or Denial of Rights?

Freedom of religion is a right that we all have as Americans, that is true. But, is this freedom of religion? Demanding that your children be uneducated so that they will be unable to function in the real world and, therefore, be forced to stay within the community—is that freedom of religion? Is that freedom, period?

“High school is hurting the colony, because they are taking away our kids,” one Hutterite mother, Sarah, said. “I believe that the kids should stick around and help with the colony because this is our life.”

What about the lives of the kids who want to get their education and decide for themselves if the Hutterite life is for them?

If this is all being done for television, these people, presumably not actors, have been very convincing in their belief that their children should not be educated. So, scarily, it may just be the real thing, television or not, and it is unbelievable that this is allowed to go on in America, that children can be denied an education simply because their parents—and church elders—want them to work on the community farm and hope that they will never have enough knowledge to leave and live independently.

Truly unbelievable.

Rita and Bertha were forgiven and unshunned by their church, but Carver and Anthony are still paying the price.

Is this the meaning religious freedom?

Is this freedom, period?

Stay tuned.

UPDATE: Tammy's mom 'proud' that her daughter quit high school

Image: Wikimedia Commons


Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on
They wanted the kids to go to school on the colony instead of in town. No one wanted them to stop going to school, no one is trying to take away their education, but that's the part they leave out so everyone will look at Hutterites as if they were evil.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on
wow, it sounds like all the posters are angry anabaptists! They're so brainwashed by their bizarre German-Protestant cult they can't even understand why forcing children to remain uneducated past the eighth grade is wrong. All they care about is getting the farm work done and continuing the madness of their backwards and heretical cultlike practices through the generations. Only cults particpate in shunning, isolation, forced ignorance, etc. Oh, and they DID want them to stop going to school as the "colony school" only goes up to the EIGHTH grade. Forcing someone to drop out of school at 12-15 years of age so they can do farmwork they won't be paid for is wicked. I bet the "elders" have nicer houses, cars, etc than the rest as cult leaders always live better (materially speaking) than their followers who are forced to blindly obey everything they say. It can hardly be said that education is an article of faith considering the circumstances, it's merely about getting as much free labor as possible. When you can't even choose what life you want to live and have to constantly answer to the "higher ups" about even the most minor details in your life (dress, education, etc) then you are definately in a cult. Personally I have ZERO respect for anabaptism of any kind. They were wicked violent heretics who posed a serious threat to the social order from the beggining, and now they're allowed to continue to opress their own children in the name of "freedom of religion". Sickening. I hope and pray that all these poor deluded heretics will convert to the One, True, Catholic faith (which they have been brainwashed to hate and despise).

Submitted by JackieMat (not verified) on
An intelligent and educated response. Most Protestants do not know the details surrounding the heretics who founded their particular sects. As has been said for hundreds of years: "To immerse oneself in history is to cease to be a Protestant."

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on
Seriously? Leave your stupid prejudices away from here. They have to be entirely self-sufficient, due to their beliefs. And they do. But the only way they can do this is to have everyone working. And really, the hutterites are only going to succede in this world by staying on the colony. By living in a colony which everyone is somehow related for hundreds of years, their social skills have deteriorated. They are only able to succede by living in the same way. In a way, their beliefs have been realized. They can only live on the colony. Like monks, but western and more modern and with a different religion. But really, I can't stand religious intollerance. You have your beliefs, I don't. So what? What does it concern you? Does it affect your life? No. Seriously, I don't want your religious spew.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on
Sorry, that was directed to the higher and longer comment above.

Submitted by Jena OC (not verified) on
I have never heard, read or seen Christian faith limiting people's reasonable education. It's just a different interpretation of religion if someone argues for it.

Submitted by Tristen (not verified) on
Just like anonymous has said nobody is trying to stop thier education.

Submitted by Jenny (not verified) on
I am a member of a conservative Russian Mennonite group in Southwest Kansas, while members of the Alt Kolonier (Old Colony) Mennonites don't send their kids past eighth grade, our group sends ours to high school and then to technical schools where welding, machine tool technology, diesel technology, sustainable agriculture, livestock sciences, crop sciences, automotive technology and nursing are the only things allowed. We don't believe in worldly things like art history, psychology, rhetoric, women's studies and other things of its ilk for members of our church. The Hutterites are doing similar to us about not exposing kids to worldly studies that won't provide jobs and a comfortable status of living. Hutterites are not the only ones who only educate to the 8th grade. Holdeman Mennonites, Old Order Amish, Old Order Mennonites, Reinlander Mennonites, some of my Kleinde Gemende group depending on district also do the same. It works for us! Our kids will be good hard-working individuals.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on
Wow.... I'm so sorry you believe that work is all there is to life and that hard work is to be revered among all. There is sooooo much more out there. Try enjoying something for a change that is done strictly for pleasure, and balance out the work.

Submitted by Jenny (not verified) on
Without work, you have nothing. Our people believe in hard labor, believing that it brings you closer to God. It humbles us and "Work makes life sweet". We don't require such things as fancy clothes, vacations in the Bahamas, the latest cell phone. We wish to work hard, so we can provide for our families and be able to help those who can't help themselves. Most modern people would rather live with having multiple days off and on those days, rush off to the greatest and latest tourist attraction instead of visiting the elderly, spending time at home with the family. I was once a modern "worldly" person and hated the sense of entitlement and idea that fun is more important than work. In my world, it's better to work and toil and stay close to the community. My husband and I are favored by employers because we work six days a week, 12-15 hr days....without complaining and without shirking. Work and church is our pleasure and our reward is when there's a widow who needs something, we provide or a disabled child, we help too. Worldly people forget about the widows after the funeral and figure that the disabled or elderly are your problem, not the church's or the community.


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