Jehovah’s Witnesses ‘Delivered Up to Local Courts’
CHRISTIANITY has met with opposition from its inception. In giving instructions to his disciples, Jesus warned: “Be on your guard against men; for they will deliver you up to local courts, and they will scourge you in their synagogues. Why, you will be haled before governors and kings for my sake, for a witness to them and the nations.” (Matthew 10:17, 18) In most countries today, opposition to the Kingdom takes a more subtle approach than the murderous wave of persecution that broke out shortly after the execution of Jesus. In the complex world in which we live, the issues raised by opponents extend beyond the preaching of the good news of the Kingdom.
One court to which some of Jehovah’s Witnesses have increasingly been delivered is the family court. In Austria, Belgium, Canada, France, Norway, the United States, and other countries, a small group of opposers have tried to make religion the key issue in determining child-custody issues when faithful Witnesses of Jehovah are divorced by unbelieving mates. Just because they were Jehovah’s Witnesses, Witness parents have lost custody of their children.
One Witness lost custody of her three-year-old son and was restricted from even mentioning religion during periods of visitation. The Legal Department of the Watchtower Society appealed this order and lost in the court of appeals. An appeal was then taken to the Ohio State Supreme Court. Happily, on April 15, 1992, the court ruled in favor of the liberty of the Witness. The 11-page opinion struck quite a blow to the so-called expert witness, who is actually a disfellowshipped individual claiming to be a psychologist. The court said that he “testified, on the basis of a dissertation he had written, that mental illness was more common among Jehovah’s Witnesses than among the general population. This testimony was a blatant attempt to stereotype an entire religion. . . . [T]his one piece of statistical evidence is meaningless.”
The court has ordered a new trial, saying: “[C]ustody may not be denied to a parent solely because she will not encourage her child to salute the flag, celebrate holidays, or participate in extracurricular activities. We reverse the trial court’s custody and visitation orders because these decisions were improperly based on [the parent’s] religious beliefs.” As a result, this mother enjoyed attending the Memorial of Christ’s death on April 17 with her son at her side in the Kingdom Hall.
The Legal Department of the Canada branch office of the Watch Tower Society has two cases now pending before the Supreme Court of Canada on this same issue. The Austria branch has been involved in a stunning victory in a case before the European Commission of Human Rights. Additionally, Belgium, France, and Norway have reported recent trial-court victories for beleaguered Witnesses in other child-custody cases where religion was the focal point of the attack. In each instance, as Jesus said, it has turned out for a witness not only to the court and the lawyers but to the nations through the publicity generated by the news media.
Another matter that Witnesses are being confronted with is the blood issue. Despite recent victories for the religious liberty and personal autonomy of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Supreme Courts of Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts, and New York and despite the tireless efforts of Hospital Information Services and the many hospital liaison committees of Jehovah’s Witnesses throughout the country, this issue keeps raising its ugly head. However, health-care providers are getting a witness, and some hospitals are trying to identify quickly and clearly patients who are Jehovah’s Witnesses.
A Japanese Witness in California had her position on blood respected by the trial court sitting in San Diego. She suffered a brain aneurysm and was unconscious. Her properly signed Medical Directive and the testimony of a pediatrician who had questioned her extensively on the blood issue when she contacted the pediatrician in the door-to-door work were enough to convince the judge that the unconscious Witness would not have accepted blood under any circumstances.
A Long Island case in which a Witness was tied down and transfused while her husband was hauled away in handcuffs has been taken to the New York High Court by the Watchtower Society’s Legal Department. A ruling in favor of the personal rights of Jehovah’s Witnesses was obtained, and the case is now proceeding through the pretrial process in a civil lawsuit. A lawsuit on behalf of a 16-year-old and his mother in federal court in Atlanta is nearing trial. The young boy was tied up and transfused for eight hours. The hearing to obtain a court order authorizing this conduct was held in the hospital and obtained without notice to the boy or his mother. There are numerous other cases pending in appeals courts and new ones arising daily. Battles are being won, but the struggle for human rights is not over. Jehovah’s Witnesses look to Jehovah God to vindicate his law on this issue, in his own due time.
Since 1943 few of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the United States have been haled before local courts on the issue of preaching. However, each week the Watchtower Society receives dozens of calls and letters from bodies of elders asking for assistance when problems are encountered by Jehovah’s Witnesses in their public ministry. One report from the state of Washington had a humorous turn. An irate householder locked the car group of Witnesses on his fenced property and called the police. His angry shouts and threats of violence caused them to wait prudently inside their car. When the police squad car pulled up, instead of arresting the Witnesses for trespassing, the police thanked them. You see, the police suspected that the householder was a fugitive, but they had not been able to get on the property to prove it. Now that he had invited them onto his property, they confirmed his identity and hauled him and the woman with whom he was living off to jail, while the Witnesses continued in their preaching and teaching work.
The stage is set for more legal battles in behalf of Kingdom interests. The Watchtower Society appreciates the interest, concern, and prayers of the many Witnesses around the world for Jehovah’s guidance and direction in dealing with the complex legal issues encountered in accomplishing God’s work today. Jehovah told the nation of Israel that they would not conquer the Promised Land all at once but that it would be accomplished “little by little.” (Deuteronomy 7:22) The advancement of the rights of Jehovah’s modern people is rather similar; little by little they make progress. But win or lose, it is certain that whenever Jehovah’s people are haled before governors, kings, courts, or anyone at all, it turns out as a witness for them and the nations.
In the near future Jehovah will completely vindicate himself not only on issues involving blood and custody but also on the legal issue involving his sovereignty. Then his people will experience peace from all opposers and enjoy exquisite delight under Kingdom rule—because Jehovah is a lover of justice.—Psalm 37:28.
[Blurb on page 12]
The young boy was tied up and transfused for eight hours