“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.
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.
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?
Image: Wikimedia Commons