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 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.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on
I think that, given the lifestyle of the Hutterites, they follow the example of the Mennonites and allow some children to attend trade schools to learn trades useful to the Colony. There are some useful trades that may not be taught in the colony because no one knows how to do them.

Submitted by Staci (not verified) on
While I agree there is much to gain by being a hard working individual I also must say that chances of these people ever gaining employment outside of their colony is minimal at best. The problem being lack of education and socialization. I can pick out a home schooled person from 10 miles away. I'm sorry but they simply lack the skills to fit into society. I believe this is why these "colonies" practice this is to assure they won't have a chance to leave when they realize this isn't living.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on
Go to Woodburn Oregon and look into the Russian Orthidox Church. kids of the church, namely girls never finish beyond 10th grade. Most kids are expected to help around the farm and forego School at high school level. Marriages happen at a young age within the church. The Hutterites are not a new delima. If you grow up in a big city, you think that this is something new.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on
I am not a Hutterite. I think the Hutterites are correct to be concerned about what their children will see and learn in public high schools. I sent my two children through public schools. They were exposed to cheating, drugs and premarital sex. But what I regret most is the public school’s encouragement and social pressure to adopt our “politically correct” aspirations to be “successful”, meaning primarily to be greedy. There was certainly no emphasis on “love thy brother as thyself”. The author of this article is clearly taking our societies politically correct stance that higher education is more important than family or religious values. I think the Hutterites deserve our respect. They have certainly done better than our troubled USA society.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on
i am so proud and have to say THANKS to all who have commented on this artical, Which seems was writen by someone who obviously has no clue how different culture live... i am hutterite, and noone tries to keep education from us,noone can stop us from leaving, we have a free choice just like anyone. Our elders they only try to help and protect us, so we may someday be able to keep our culture alive,...

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on
i am so proud and have to say THANKS to all who have commented on this artical, Which seems was writen by someone who obviously has no clue how different culture live... i am hutterite, and noone tries to keep education from us,noone can stop us from leaving, we have a free choice just like anyone. Our elders they only try to help and protect us, so we may someday be able to keep our culture alive,...

Submitted by Jenny (not verified) on
People will never understand the reason why we choose to keep the heritage alive. As Kleinde Gemende Mennonite (not born into the faith, converted), I understand the reason why things are there for a reason and I feel like people are trying to force us (Hutterites and Mennonites) alike into worldly things that take us away from God and tradition. Rules are there for a reason and I am happier as Kleinde Gemende than I was in the 23 years prior to my conversion. I like my life and don't ask for much...just as the Hutterite Colonies do. If God grants me children, then they will be raised in the way of our faith and not encouraged to chase after worldly things.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on
I was raised in a small town, and taught that it was ok to live simple, always respect others and to love God. We grew up on my grandparents dairy farm where we watched them work hard and we worked hard as well. But no matter how hard they worked, or how tired they were, come sunday, we all were sitting in our pew at church listening to the word of God. I think these hutterites have a good thing going. And although they would consider me an english person, some of us that were raised simple have a lot in common with them. I think the closeness is nice and the way that they work together is amazing! My hat is off to the hutterites. I respect their way of life and admire the structure they are about.

Submitted by Hutterite girl (not verified) on
The actual reality: my peers and I have all never stepped foot inside a public high school, & we all have a grade 12 education. Whats more, We weren't exposed 'worldly' ( as in, not christian) influences. Why? Because of a 'choice' our parents made, A choice to educate their children in earthly wisdom, & most important, to teach them about Christ.


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