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


Fair enough; can you tell us, did you homeschool for the upper grades, or does your colony have a school through 12th grade on it? Really interested in learning more on this subject.

Submitted by Hutterite girl (not verified) on
Yes, i went through all the grades at my colony's school. we use Abecca, a Christian curriculum fr pencecola christian academy. Many colony's use it, and many have a anababtist curriculum. Others have distant learning courses. Education has actually been very important to Hutterites since their start in Europe. When the rest of the common ppl couldn't read, they made sure all their children would b able to read the word of God for themselves. They have passed on their high regard for education. After all, 'my people perish for lack of knowledge' Hosea 4:6

So, do you have an opinion on the way education has been portrayed on "Meet the Hutterites?" Last night, Tammy's mom said she was "proud" that her daughter made the decision to quit high school; does that not seem completely opposite of what you just described?

Submitted by Hutterite girl (not verified) on
My opinion, ( a fact, really) is that the parents at King colony have more than two choices concerning their childrens education.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on
I am not familiar with the Hutterites but as my family watched the show it seemed very familiar to us, we were members of a similar religion ourselvs. They frowned on the worldly people, ideas and even education. They (we) were asked to not be in plays, not do the musical and sports programs, actually keep to ourselves for fear we become "worldly". They are Jehovah's Witnesses, and they are just a good at portraying the outside as something that will stop the young ones from staying faithful. I did enjoy the show and the people in it, but it was very familiar in a uncomfortable way.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on
The Hutterite's are nothing like Jehovah witness they don't force, cajole or try to talk anybody into joining their church people have to use their own conscience that is why everybody has one.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on
how can you compared them to the JW, i look at the Hutterites and i can see the familiarity between them and the Mennonites, Most mennonites i know attend high school, graduated with me, our valedictorian was a JW, who wasn't allowed to go to college, some even went to college, Hutterite Parents are not trying to forbid, they want to protect their kids from a world that's getting more and more corrupt in their own point of view. If you look at some communities, they are allowing some changes such as online distances learning on curriculums they won't cause conflict with their beliefs, some Hutterites families in Canada even allow telephones now, They live in a commune, they like the Amish are pacifists, they are conscientous objectors when it comes to war. The poster doesn't tell people that they're using Cell phones and Smart Phones, one of them even wanted to take her mom to a country music concert. They are changing but they're changing in ways that won't get in the way of their own beliefs, if they don't want to send their kids to high school, it could be because they will get bullied for being different. What guarantee can the writer say that the kids won't get teased or bullied for dressing or being different.

It is amazing, the number of excuses people are coming up with to defend what has been plainly stated on this show repeatedly: Members of King Ranch Colony, with a few exceptions, are against their children going to school beyond eighth grade because they may gain the knowledge and understanding to leave. If the kids' faith is strong enough, they will not leave simply because they have an education beyond the 8th grade. If the parents' faith is strong enough, they should understand this. Instead, you have a mother celebrating her daughter's decision to drop out of high school as if she just won the lottery.

Submitted by PDigs (not verified) on
I love the show personally. The people are good people and their personalities are very colorful and a joy to watch. However, even though they are an authentic Hutterite colony, how "out of the world" of the English are they really........ since they are on TV? They are more exposed "to the world" than most of us. How many of us have been on a popular TV show? They have camera crews around doing scenes and takes; film crews; etc., and they are taking part in the process of TV and movie making. I would say that is actually MORE "of the world" than most of us will ever be. They have more Facebook friends and subscribers than 10,000 of us "regular folk" combined, and are experiencing a level of popularity that none of us will ever experience in our lives (they're famous). So I ask again; "How 'out of the world' are they really? Think about it.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on
I watched the show this evening for the first time and was most alarmed at the "shunning" of those dear ladies that have worked so hard for the colony up until the shunning. How can another human being treat their fellow sisters like that ? It's an utter disgrace, that's not christian, and those elders that ordered the shunning are nothing more than trumped up egotistical pigs.They should be stripped of their title and position for such un christian behaviour. they are condemning those 2 boys who loved sport to a long hard dreary existence. If they have to force the young ones to stay, by such cruel behaviour towards them and their mothers, then it will eventually build resentment towards the leadership.Let the kids have their life, they don't deserve their lives to be held hostage like that by their cult leaders.


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