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Jehovahs Witnesses Lose Court Battle to Suppress Freedom of Speech


ICSA e-Newsletter, Vol. 6, No. 2, 2007 

Jehovah’s Witnesses Lose Court Battle to Suppress Freedom of Speech

William Bowen


In a Denmark court ruling, December 2006, Jehovah’s Witnesses lost a key decision to suppress freedom of the press. They were ordered to pay legal fees of 50,000 kroner to one of the largest newspapers in Denmark, Ekstra Bladet [1] . Ekstra Bladet had published a series of articles on the epidemic of child abuse within the Jehovah’s Witness organization. Since May of 2002, media worldwide have circulated reports of child-abuse problems. Stories include those from The New York Times, Dateline, and eight different countries offering testimony from sexually abused kids within the religion.

In the autumn of 2004, the Denmark newspaper ran a series of articles that blasted the religion for polices of covering up abuse allegations. The Jehovah’s Witnesses local Branch Office Committee in Denmark filed a 350,000-kroner slander lawsuit against Ekstra Bladet and the editor of the newspaper. The religion went further and attacked victims of abuse who had been interviewed for the newspaper articles. Victims were told they would be sued into poverty if they did not retract the stories of being raped as children, which they had given to the newspaper. Because of intimidation, one girl withdrew her story, and other victims went into hiding.

Jehovah’s Witnesses have long touted their record as an organization that is a defender of “freedom of speech.” They currently claim on their Website that they have won more than 50 lawsuits that supposedly establish the freedom of people to speak as they wish or to practice their faith. A film/propaganda piece is circulating around the United States of America called Knocking that will soon air on PBS; the piece touts how Jehovah’s Witnesses protect freedom. Yet another side the public are not informed of is the inverted use of these legal victories to punish and humiliate people the Jehovah’s Witnesses do not like.

“Disfellowshipping,” a word created by Jehovah’s Witnesses, is used as a weapon within the religion to destroy families and silence members through intimidation to obey whatever they are told to do. If members are disfellowshipped, all family and church members view them as dead and will not acknowledge their existence; even if a disfellowshipped son walks into the same room with his mother, she will not speak to him. The shunning is indefinite until the deposed members renounce anything the church tells them to and submit totally to church leadership. For example, victims of child abuse have been disfellowshipped for attempting to expose the member who molested them. The victims’ freedom of speech was indirectly taken away because no church member was allowed to talk to them; and in some instances, their families put them out on the street at the direction of church leaders. The right of the Jehovah’s Witnesses religion to diminish such freedom of speech of certain members has in large part been won by the sect’s successful Supreme Court litigations [2].

How could a documentary film on Jehovah’s Witnesses miss this common practice in the religion? Jehovah’s Witnesses are well known on their Website for press releases that tout their legal victories in the international courts [3]. Sadly, however, there is no reference to the Denmark decision anywhere on this Website. In recent California court decisions, Jehovah’s Witnesses have also lost key court rulings on civil child-abuse litigation against the church; but again, this information has been omitted from the Jehovah’s Witnesses Website [4].

When the Jehovah’s Witnesses lose their court battles to suppress freedom of speech, they appear to be silent. Could one of the reasons be that they misuse donated funds to hurt people? When a Jehovah’s Witness calls at your home, he has been taught to memorize this commentary at the end of offering you some free literature: “Our literature is offered without charge, but we would gladly accept a small donation for the Worldwide Work of Jehovah’s Witnesses.”

When the public reach into their pockets and make donations to this group, they are funding many different things. Although part of the money goes to make more magazines and books, a significant amount goes to fund litigation. In the past five years, more than 70 lawsuits that involved the mistreatment of abused kids were filed against the Jehovah’s Witnesses. When you donate to the “Worldwide Work,” you may be funding the defense of child molesters. In the Denmark litigation, 50,000 kroner of “Worldwide Work” donations will be spent to pay legal fees, the goal of which was to suppress newspaper exposés of the organization’s child-abuse policy. Would anyone who understands what is actually happening wish to donate their money to assist people who may be pedophiles and suppress freedom of speech—even if just a few cents of each dollar they donated were involved?

At silentlambs, we call for the immediate cessation of funding for such defense litigation and attempts to suppress freedom of speech. We hope this “slap on the ear” is a wake-up call to the Jehovah’s Witnesses and anyone else who wishes to silence victims of abuse and to misuse “good faith” donations to hurt the innocent. The next time Jehovah’s Witnesses happily approach you to offer their magazines, accept their offering if you are inclined, and then inform them that you prefer not to donate to their “Worldwide Work” until they stop hurting victims of abuse.

So while Knocking, a Jehovah’s Witnesses-endorsed documentary, airs on PBS and provides accolades for court victories that make the group champions for freedom of speech, the facts show that lawyers funded by a multi-billion-dollar corporation are making a mockery of the U.S. Constitution. They use the Supreme Court as a knife to cut out the tongues of people who are victimized by this religion. Professor Marci Hamilton’s online article at FindLaw notes the irony of the Denmark case:

It is extraordinarily ironic, then, that the Jehovah’s Witnesses have recently, in Denmark, taken the position that speech, including speech by the press, should be punished and suppressed. It appears that when the topic is alleged clergy abuse within the organization, its position on freedom of speech makes a 180-degree turn. Apparently, the Jehovah’s Witnesses support free speech for themselves, but not for their critics. [5]

[1] To read the article, go to http://debat.religion.dk/showthreaded.php?Cat=&Board=02112006&Number=116623&page=0&view=collapsed&sb=5&o=&vc=1.

[2] Read more about disfellowshipping policy at http://www.watchtower.cc/DF_DA.htm.

[3] Available on the organization’s media Website, www.jw-media.org.

[4] Read about the court ruling at http://www.silentlambs.org/courtrulingnapa.htm.

[5] http://writ.news.findlaw.com/hamilton/20070125.html