‘Defending and Legally Establishing the Good News’
THE intense persecution brought upon Jehovah’s Witnesses has resulted in their being haled before police officials, judges, and rulers earth wide. Legal cases involving the Witnesses have numbered many thousands, and hundreds of these have been appealed to higher courts. This has had a profound effect on the law itself and has often fortified legal guarantees of basic freedoms for people in general. But this has not been the main objective of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Their principal desire is to proclaim the good news of the Kingdom of God. Legal action that they take is not because they are social agitators or legal reformers. Their objective is to ‘defend and legally establish the good news,’ even as was true of the apostle Paul. (Phil. 1:7) Hearings before government officials, whether at the request of the Witnesses or because they are under arrest for their Christian activity, are also viewed as opportunities to give a witness. Jesus Christ told his followers: “You will be haled before governors and kings for my sake, for a witness to them and the nations.”—Matt. 10:18.
An International Flood of Legal Action
Long before the first world war, the clergy, by putting pressure on local officials, endeavored to hinder distribution of literature by the Bible Students in their areas. Following World War I, however, opposition intensified. In one country after another, legal hurdles of every imaginable sort were put before those who endeavored to obey Christ’s prophetic command to preach the good news of God’s Kingdom for the purpose of a witness.—Matt. 24:14.
Stirred by evidence of the fulfillment of Bible prophecy, the Bible Students left their convention at Cedar Point, Ohio, in 1922, determined to let the world know that the Gentile Times had expired and that the Lord had taken his great power and was ruling from the heavens as King. “Advertise, advertise, advertise, the King and his kingdom” was their slogan. In that same year, the clergy in Germany agitated for the police to arrest some of the Bible Students when they were distributing Bible literature. This was no isolated incident. By 1926, there were 897 of such cases pending in the German courts. So much litigation was involved that in 1926 it became necessary for the Watch Tower Society to establish a legal department at its branch office in Magdeburg. During 1928, in Germany alone there were 1,660 legal proceedings initiated against the Bible Students, and the pressure continued to mount year by year. The clergy were determined to put an end to the work of the Bible Students, and they rejoiced when any court decision indicated that they were having some measure of success.
In the United States, arrests of Bible Students for house-to-house preaching took place in 1928, in South Amboy, New Jersey. Within a decade the annual number of arrests in connection with their ministry in the United States was in excess of 500. During 1936 the number rose sharply—to 1,149. To provide needed counsel, it became necessary to have a legal department at the Society’s headquarters also.
Intensive preaching activity in Romania likewise met with severe resistance from the authorities then in power. Jehovah’s Witnesses who distributed Bible literature were often arrested and viciously beaten. From 1933 to 1939, the Witnesses there were confronted with 530 lawsuits. The law of the land, however, contained guarantees of freedom, so appeals to the Romanian High Court brought many favorable decisions. When the police began to realize this, they would confiscate literature and abuse the Witnesses but try to avoid court action. After the Society finally was allowed to register as a corporation in Romania, opponents endeavored to frustrate the purpose of this legal registration by obtaining a court order prohibiting distribution of Watch Tower literature. This ruling was overturned by a higher court, but then the clergy induced the minister of cults to take action to counteract that decision.
In Italy and Hungary, as in Romania, Bible literature used by the Witnesses was confiscated by the police under the governments that were then ruling. The same was done in Japan, Korea, and the Gold Coast (now called Ghana). Jehovah’s Witnesses who had come from abroad were ordered to leave France. For many years none of Jehovah’s Witnesses were granted permission to enter the Soviet Union to preach about God’s Kingdom.
As the fever of nationalism swept across the world from 1933 on into the 1940’s, government bans were placed on Jehovah’s Witnesses in one land after another. Thousands of the Witnesses were brought before the courts during this period because of their conscientious refusal to salute flags and their insistence on Christian neutrality. In 1950 it was reported that during the preceding 15 years, Jehovah’s Witnesses in the United States alone had suffered more than 10,000 arrests.
When upwards of 400 Witnesses were brought before the courts of Greece within a short period in 1946, this was not the beginning of such action there. It had been going on for years. In addition to imprisonment, heavy fines were imposed, draining the brothers financially. But as they viewed their situation, they said: “The Lord opened the way for the witness work to reach the officials of Greece, who heard about the establishment of the kingdom of righteousness; also the judges in the courts had the same opportunity.” Jehovah’s Witnesses clearly viewed the matter in the way that Jesus said that his followers should.—Luke 21:12, 13.
A Battle With Seemingly Impossible Odds
During the 1940’s and 1950’s, the Canadian province of Quebec became a veritable battleground. Arrests for preaching the good news had been taking place there since 1924. By the winter of 1931, some individual Witnesses were being picked up by the police every day, sometimes twice a day. Legal expenses for the Witnesses in Canada became heavy. Then, early in 1947 the total number of cases involving the Witnesses that were pending in the courts in Quebec Province soared to 1,300; yet, there was only a small band of Jehovah’s Witnesses there.
This was an era when the Roman Catholic Church was a powerful influence with which every politician and every judge in the province had to reckon. The clergy were generally held in high esteem in Quebec, and others were quick to obey the dictates of the local priest. As the book State and Salvation (1989) described the situation: “The cardinal of Quebec had a throne on the floor of the Legislative Assembly immediately beside the one reserved for the lieutenant-governor. One way or another much of Quebec was under direct church control . . . The mission of the church was, in fact, to make Quebec’s political life conform to the Roman Catholic concept in which truth is Catholicism, error is anything non-Catholic, and liberty is the freedom to speak and live the Roman Catholic truth.”
Humanly speaking, the odds against the Witnesses not only in Quebec but worldwide seemed impossible.
Charges of Every Conceivable Type
Opponents of the Witnesses combed the lawbooks to find any possible pretext for putting an end to their activity. Frequently they charged them with peddling without a license, thus claiming that the work was commercial. Contradicting this, elsewhere some of the pioneers were charged with vagrancy because it was contended that they were not gainfully employed.
For decades, officials in some cantons of Switzerland persistently endeavored to classify the distribution of Bible literature by Jehovah’s Witnesses as commercial peddling. The state attorney in the French-speaking Canton of Vaud, in particular, was determined not to let stand any decisions from the lower courts that were favorable to the Witnesses.
In one place after another, Jehovah’s Witnesses were told that they had to have permits to distribute their literature or to hold their Bible meetings. But was a permit really required? The Witnesses answered “No!” On what basis?
They explained: ‘Jehovah God commands his witnesses to preach the gospel of his kingdom, and God’s commandments are supreme and must be obeyed by his witnesses. No earthly law-making or law-enforcing body can properly interfere with Jehovah’s law. Since no governing power of the world can properly prohibit the preaching of the gospel, no such worldly authority or power can grant a permit to preach the gospel. Worldly powers have no authority in the matter one way or the other. To ask humans for permission to do something that God has commanded would be an insult to God.’
The charges laid against the Witnesses often gave strong evidence of religious animosity. Thus, when the booklets Face the Facts and Cure were circulated, the Society’s branch overseer in the Netherlands was summoned to appear in court in Haarlem, in 1939, to answer the charge of insulting a group of the Dutch populace. The prosecutor argued, for example, that Watch Tower literature stated that the Roman Catholic hierarchy fraudulently extracted money from the people by claiming to free the dead from a place where they are not—from purgatory, the existence of which, the literature said, the Church could not prove.
On the stand the hierarchy’s star witness, “Father” Henri de Greeve, wailed: “My biggest grievance is that an outsider could get the impression that we priests are just a bunch of villains and swindlers.” When called to testify, the Society’s branch overseer opened the Catholic Bible and showed the court that what the booklet said about Catholic teachings was in accord with their own Bible. When the Society’s attorney then asked de Greeve if he could prove the doctrines of hellfire and purgatory, he answered: “I cannot prove it; I only believe it.” The judge quickly realized that this is exactly what the booklet had claimed. The case was dismissed, and the priest rushed from the courthouse in a rage!
Agitated by increased activity of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the eastern part of what was then Czechoslovakia, the clergy there charged the Witnesses with espionage. The situation was like that experienced by the apostle Paul when the first-century Jewish clergy accused him of sedition. (Acts 24:5) Hundreds of cases went to court in 1933-34, until the government became convinced that there was no valid basis for the accusation. In the Canadian province of Quebec, in the 1930’s and the 1940’s, Witnesses were also being brought to trial on the charge of seditious conspiracy. The clergy themselves—both Catholic and Protestant, but especially Roman Catholic—even went into court as witnesses against them. What had Jehovah’s Witnesses done? The clergy argued that they had endangered national unity by publishing things that could cause disaffection toward the Roman Catholic Church. However, the Witnesses replied that, in reality, they had distributed literature that brought humble people comfort from God’s Word but that this infuriated the clergy because unscriptural teachings and practices were being exposed.
What made it possible for Jehovah’s Witnesses to keep going in the face of such persistent opposition? It was their faith in God and his inspired Word, their unselfish devotion to Jehovah and his Kingdom, and the strength that results from the operation of God’s spirit. As the Scriptures state, “the power beyond what is normal [is] God’s and not that out of ourselves.”—2 Cor. 4:7.
Jehovah’s Witnesses Take the Offensive in the Legal Arena
For decades before World War I, the Bible Students had engaged in extensive free distribution of Bible literature on streets near the churches and from house to house. But then many towns and cities in the United States passed ordinances that greatly hindered such “volunteer work.” What could be done?
The Watch Tower of December 15, 1919, explained: “Believing it to be our duty to put forth every possible effort to witness to the Lord’s kingdom and not to slack our hand because we see the door closing, and in view of the fact that there was such systematic effort against the volunteer work, arrangements were made for the use of a magazine, . . . THE GOLDEN AGE.”a
As the intensity of house-to-house witnessing increased, however, so did attempts to apply laws to abridge or prohibit it. Not all lands have legal provisions that make it possible to secure freedoms for minorities in the face of official opposition. But Jehovah’s Witnesses knew that the U.S. Constitution guaranteed freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and freedom of the press. So, when judges construed local ordinances in such a way as to hinder the preaching of God’s Word, the Witnesses appealed their cases to the higher courts.b
In reviewing what took place, Hayden C. Covington, who had a prominent role in legal matters for the Watch Tower Society, later explained: “Had the thousands of convictions entered by the magistrates, police courts and other lower courts not been appealed, a mountain of precedent would have piled up as a giant obstacle in the field of worship. By appealing we have prevented the erection of such obstacle. Our way of worship has been written into the law of the land of the United States and other countries because of our persistence in appealing from adverse decisions.” In the United States, scores of cases went all the way to the Supreme Court.
Strengthening the Guarantees of Freedom
One of the first cases involving the ministry of Jehovah’s Witnesses to reach the Supreme Court of the United States originated in Georgia and was argued before the Court on February 4, 1938. Alma Lovell had been convicted in the recorder’s court of Griffin, Georgia, of violating an ordinance that prohibited the distribution of literature of any kind without a permit from the city manager. Among other things, Sister Lovell had offered people the magazine The Golden Age. On March 28, 1938, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that the ordinance was invalid because it subjected freedom of the press to license and censorship.c
The following year J. F. Rutherford, as attorney for the petitioner, presented arguments to the Supreme Court in the case of Clara Schneider v. State of New Jersey.d This was followed, in 1940, by Cantwell v. State of Connecticut,e for which J. F. Rutherford drafted the legal brief and Hayden Covington presented oral argument before the Court. The positive outcome of these cases buttressed the constitutional guarantees of freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and freedom of the press. But there were setbacks.
Severe Blows at the Hands of the Courts
The flag-salute issue as it related to the schoolchildren of Jehovah’s Witnesses first reached the American courts in 1935 in the case of Carlton B. Nicholls v. Mayor and School Committee of Lynn (Massachusetts).f The case was referred to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. The court ruled, in 1937, that regardless of what Carleton Nichols, Jr., and his parents said they believed, no allowance need be made for religious belief because, it said, “the flag salute and pledge of allegiance here in question do not in any just sense relate to religion. . . . They do not concern the views of any one as to his Creator. They do not touch upon his relations with his Maker.” When the issue of compulsory flag salute was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Leoles v. Landersg in 1937, and again in Hering v. State Board of Educationh in 1938, the Court dismissed these cases because there was, in their opinion, no important federal question to consider. In 1939 the Court again dismissed an appeal involving the same issue, in the case of Gabrielli v. Knickerbocker.i That same day, without hearing oral argument, they affirmed the adverse decision of the lower court in the case of Johnson v. Town of Deerfield.j
Finally, in 1940, a full hearing was given by the Court to the case styled Minersville School District v. Gobitis.k An array of celebrated lawyers filed briefs in the case on both sides. J. F. Rutherford presented oral argument on behalf of Walter Gobitas and his children. A member of the law department of Harvard University represented the American Bar Association and the Civil Liberties Union in arguing against compulsory flag saluting. However, their arguments were rejected, and with only one dissenting vote, the Supreme Court, on June 3, ruled that children who would not salute the flag could be expelled from the public schools.
During the next three years, the Supreme Court ruled against Jehovah’s Witnesses in 19 cases. Most significant was the adverse decision, in 1942, in Jones v. City of Opelika.l Rosco Jones had been convicted of engaging in distribution of literature on the streets of Opelika, Alabama, without payment of a license tax. The Supreme Court upheld the conviction and said that governments have the right to charge reasonable fees for canvassing and that such laws could not be challenged even if local authorities might arbitrarily revoke the license. This was a severe blow, because now any community, goaded by clergymen or anyone else who opposed the Witnesses, could legally exclude them and thus, the opposers might reason, stop the preaching activity of Jehovah’s Witnesses. But a strange thing happened.
The Tide Turns
In Jones v. Opelika, the very decision that was such a blow to the public ministry of Jehovah’s Witnesses, three of the justices stated that not only did they disagree with the Court majority on the case at hand but they also felt that they had helped to lay the foundation for it in the Gobitis case. “Since we joined in the opinion in the Gobitis case,” they added, “we think this is an appropriate occasion to state that we now believe that it was also wrongly decided.” Jehovah’s Witnesses took that as a cue to present the issues anew to the Court.
A Motion for Rehearing was filed in the case of Jones v. Opelika. In that motion, strong legal arguments were presented. It also firmly declared: “This Court should reckon with the paramount fact, that it is judicially dealing with servants of Almighty God.” Biblical precedents showing the implications of this were reviewed. Attention was directed to the advice given by the law teacher Gamaliel to the first-century Jewish supreme court, namely: “Do not meddle with these men, but let them alone; . . . otherwise, you may perhaps be found fighters actually against God.”—Acts 5:34-39.
At last, on May 3, 1943, in the landmark case Murdock v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania,a the Supreme Court reversed its earlier decision in Jones v. Opelika. It declared that any license tax as a precondition to exercising one’s freedom of religion by distribution of religious literature is unconstitutional. This case reopened the doors of the United States to Jehovah’s Witnesses and has been appealed to as authority in hundreds of cases since then. May 3, 1943, was truly a memorable day for Jehovah’s Witnesses as regards litigation before the Supreme Court of the United States. On that one day, in 12 out of 13 cases (all of which were consolidated for hearing and opinion into four decisions), the Court ruled in their favor.b
About a month later—on June 14, the nation’s annual Flag Day—the Supreme Court again reversed itself, this time as to its decision in the Gobitis case, doing so in the case styled West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette.c It ruled that “no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.” Much of the reasoning set out in that decision was thereafter adopted in Canada by the Ontario Court of Appeal in Donald v. Hamilton Board of Education, which decision the Canadian Supreme Court refused to overrule.
Consistent with its decision in the Barnette case, and on the same day, in Taylor v. State of Mississippi,d the Supreme Court of the United States held that Jehovah’s Witnesses could not validly be charged with sedition for explaining their reasons for refraining from saluting the flag and for teaching that all nations are on the losing side because they are in opposition to God’s Kingdom. These decisions also set the scene for subsequent favorable rulings in other courts in cases involving Witness parents whose children had refused to salute the flag in school, as well as in issues involving employment and child custody. The tide had definitely turned.e
Opening a New Era of Freedom in Quebec
Jehovah’s Witnesses were also pressing the issue of freedom of worship in Canada. From 1944 to 1946, hundreds of Witnesses had been arrested in Quebec when they shared in their public ministry. Canadian law provided for freedom of worship, but mobs disrupted meetings where the Bible was discussed. The police obeyed demands of the Catholic clergy that Jehovah’s Witnesses be stopped. Judges of the local recorders’ courts heaped abuse on the Witnesses, though no action was taken against the mobsters. What could be done?
The Society arranged for a special assembly in Montreal on November 2 and 3, 1946. Speakers reviewed the position of Jehovah’s Witnesses Scripturally and from the standpoint of the law of the land. Then arrangements were announced for a 16-day, coast-to-coast distribution—in English, French, and Ukrainian—of the tract Quebec’s Burning Hate for God and Christ and Freedom Is the Shame of All Canada. It reported in detail the mob violence and other atrocities being committed against Jehovah’s Witnesses in Quebec. This was followed by a second tract, Quebec, You Have Failed Your People!
Arrests in Quebec skyrocketed. To cope with the situation, the Canada branch of the Watch Tower Society set up a legal department with representatives both in Toronto and in Montreal. When news reached the press that Maurice Duplessis, the premier of Quebec, had deliberately ruined the restaurant business of Frank Roncarelli, one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, simply because he provided bail for fellow Witnesses, the Canadian public protested loudly. Then, on March 2, 1947, Jehovah’s Witnesses launched a nationwide campaign inviting the people of Canada to petition the government for a Bill of Rights. Over 500,000 signatures were obtained—the largest petition that had ever been presented to the Canadian Parliament! This was followed, the next year, by an even larger petition to reinforce the first one.
Meanwhile, the Society selected two test cases for appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada. One of these, Aimé Boucher v. His Majesty The King, dealt with the charge of sedition that had repeatedly been laid against the Witnesses.
The Boucher case was based on the part that Aimé Boucher, a mild-tempered farmer, had in distributing the tract Quebec’s Burning Hate. Was it seditious for him to make known the mob violence directed against Witnesses in Quebec, the disregard for law on the part of officials who dealt with them, and evidence that the Catholic bishop and others of the Catholic clergy were instigating it?
In analyzing the tract that was distributed, one of the justices of the Supreme Court said: “The document was headed ‘Quebec’s Burning Hate for God and Christ and Freedom Is the Shame of All Canada;’ it consisted first of an invocation to calmness and reason in appraising the matters to be dealt with in support of the heading; then of general references to vindictive persecution accorded in Quebec to the Witnesses as brethren in Christ; a detailed narrative of specific incidents of persecution; and a concluding appeal to the people of the province, in protest against mob rule and gestapo tactics, that, through the study of God’s Word and obedience to its commands, there might be brought about a ‘bounteous crop of the good fruits of love for Him and Christ and human freedom.’”
The decision of the Court nullified the conviction of Aimé Boucher, but three of the five justices merely ordered a new trial. Would that result in an impartial decision in the lower courts? Application was made by counsel for Jehovah’s Witnesses for the Supreme Court itself to rehear the case. Amazingly, this was granted. While the application was pending, the number of judges on the Court was increased, and one of the original judges changed his mind. The result in December 1950 was a 5-to-4 decision fully acquitting Brother Boucher.
At first, this decision was defied by both the solicitor general and the premier (who was also attorney general) of the province of Quebec, but gradually it was enforced through the courts. Thus the charge of sedition that had repeatedly been raised against Jehovah’s Witnesses in Canada was effectively buried.
Yet another test case was appealed to the Canadian Supreme Court—Laurier Saumur v. The City of Quebec. This one confronted the licensing bylaws that were involved in a large number of convictions in the lower courts. In the Saumur case, the Society was seeking a permanent injunction against the city of Quebec to prevent the authorities from interfering with the distribution of religious literature by Jehovah’s Witnesses. On October 6, 1953, the Supreme Court rendered its decision. The answer was “Yes” to Jehovah’s Witnesses, “No” to the province of Quebec. That decision also brought victory in a thousand other cases where the same principle of religious liberty was the governing factor. This opened a new era for the work of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Quebec.
Education in Legal Rights and Procedure
As the number of court cases increased in the late 1920’s and thereafter, it became necessary for Jehovah’s Witnesses to be instructed in legal procedures. Since J. F. Rutherford was a lawyer and had himself served on occasion as a judge, he appreciated the need for the Witnesses to have direction in these matters. Particularly since 1926 the Witnesses had been emphasizing house-to-house preaching on Sundays, with the use of books explaining the Bible. Because of opposition to their Sunday distribution of Bible literature, Brother Rutherford prepared the pamphlet Liberty to Preach to help those in the United States to understand their rights under the law. However, he could not personally do all the legal work, so he arranged for other attorneys to serve as part of the Society’s headquarters staff. In addition, others, spread across the country, cooperated closely.
The attorneys could not be present for all the court appearances required in the thousands of cases involving the preaching activity of Jehovah’s Witnesses, but they could provide valuable counsel. To that end, arrangements were made to train all of Jehovah’s Witnesses in basic legal procedures. This was done at special assemblies in the United States in 1932 and, later, on the regular Service Meeting programs in the congregations. A detailed “Order of Trial” was published in the 1933 Year Book of Jehovah’s Witnesses (later as a separate sheet). These instructions were adjusted as circumstances required. In the November 3, 1937, issue of Consolation, further legal counsel was given regarding specific situations that were being encountered.
Using this information, the Witnesses usually handled their own defense in local courts, instead of securing the services of a lawyer. They found that in this way they could often give a witness to the court and present the issues squarely to the judge, instead of having their cases decided merely on legal technicalities. When any case was adversely decided, an appeal was usually filed, though some Witnesses served a jail term instead of hiring an attorney, whose services would be needed in an appellate court.
As new situations arose and precedents were set by decisions in the courts, more information was provided to keep the Witnesses up-to-date. Thus, in 1939 the booklet Advice for Kingdom Publishers was printed to aid the brothers in court battles. Two years later a more extensive discussion was set out in the booklet Jehovah’s Servants Defended. It quoted or discussed 50 different American court decisions involving Jehovah’s Witnesses, as well as numerous other cases, and explained how these legal precedents could be beneficially used. Then, in 1943, a copy of Freedom of Worship was made available to each Witness and was diligently studied at Service Meetings in the congregations. In addition to providing a valuable digest of legal cases, this booklet set out in detail the Scriptural reasons for handling matters in particular ways. This was followed, in 1950, by the updated booklet Defending and Legally Establishing the Good News.
All of this was a progressive legal education. The objective, however, was not to make the Witnesses lawyers but to keep the way open to preach the good news of God’s Kingdom publicly and from house to house.
Like a Swarm of Locusts
Where officials viewed themselves as being above the law, their treatment of the Witnesses was sometimes ruthless. Regardless of the methods employed by their opponents, however, Jehovah’s Witnesses knew that God’s Word counsels: “Do not avenge yourselves, beloved, but yield place to the wrath; for it is written: ‘Vengeance is mine; I will repay, says Jehovah.’” (Rom. 12:19) Nevertheless, they felt keenly obligated to give a witness. How did they do it when confronted with official opposition?
Although the individual congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses were usually rather small during the 1930’s, there was a strong bond among them. When there was serious trouble in any location, Witnesses from surrounding areas were eager to help. In 1933 in the United States, for example, 12,600 Witnesses were organized into 78 divisions. When there were persistent arrests in an area, or when opposers succeeded in pressuring radio stations to cancel contracts for broadcasting programs prepared by Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Society’s office in Brooklyn was notified. Within a week, reinforcements were dispatched to that area to give a concentrated witness.
Depending on the need, from 50 to 1,000 Witnesses would rendezvous at an appointed time, usually in the countryside near the area to be worked. They were all volunteers; some came as much as 200 miles [320 km]. Individual groups were given territory that could be covered in perhaps 30 minutes or possibly as much as two hours. As each car group began to work in its assigned section, a committee of brothers called on the police to notify them of the work being done and to provide a list of all the Witnesses who were working in the community that morning. Realizing that their own forces were overwhelmed by the sheer number of Witnesses, the officials in most places permitted the work to go on without hindrance. In some localities they filled their jail but then could do no more. For any that were arrested, the Witnesses had attorneys on hand with bail. The effect was like that of the symbolic swarm of locusts referred to in the Scriptures at Joel 2:7-11 and Revelation 9:1-11. In this way it was possible to continue preaching the good news even in the face of intense opposition.
Exposing Actions of High-Handed Officials to Public View
It was deemed beneficial to inform people in some areas as to what their local officials were doing. In Quebec, when the courts subjected Witnesses to procedures reminiscent of Inquisitional tribunals, a letter was sent to all the members of the Quebec legislature setting out the facts. When that brought no action, the Society forwarded a copy of the letter to 14,000 businessmen throughout the province. Then the information was taken to the editors of newspapers for publication.
In the eastern United States, the public was informed by radio broadcasts. At Brooklyn Bethel a number of trained actors, good at imitating, formed what was called The King’s Theater. When high-handed officials put Jehovah’s Witnesses on trial, a full stenographic record was made of the court proceedings. The actors were present in the court so as to become well acquainted with the tone of voice and manner of speech of the police, the prosecutor, and the judge. After extensive advertising to ensure a large radio audience, The King’s Theater would reenact courtroom scenes with remarkable realism so that the public would know exactly what their officials were doing. In time, because of the floodlight of publicity upon them, some of these officials became more careful in their handling of cases involving the Witnesses.
United Action in the Face of Nazi Oppression
When the government of Nazi Germany put into operation a campaign to stop the activity of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Germany, repeated efforts were made to gain a hearing with the German authorities. But no relief was forthcoming. By the summer of 1933, their work had been banned in the majority of German states. Therefore, on June 25, 1933, a declaration regarding their ministry and its objectives was adopted by Jehovah’s Witnesses at an assembly in Berlin. Copies were sent to all the high government officials, and millions more were distributed to the public. Nevertheless, in July 1933 the courts refused to grant a hearing for relief. Early the following year, a personal letter regarding the situation was written by J. F. Rutherford to Adolf Hitler and delivered to him by special messenger. Then the entire worldwide brotherhood went into action.
On Sunday morning, October 7, 1934, at nine o’clock, every group of Witnesses in Germany assembled. They prayed for Jehovah’s guidance and blessing. Then each group sent a letter to German government officials declaring their firm determination to keep on serving Jehovah. Before dismissing, they discussed together the words of their Lord, Jesus Christ, at Matthew 10:16-24. After this they went out to give a witness to their neighbors about Jehovah and his Kingdom under Christ.
That same day, Jehovah’s Witnesses throughout the earth met and, after united prayer to Jehovah, sent a cablegram warning the Hitler government: “Your ill-treatment of Jehovah’s witnesses shocks all good people of earth and dishonors God’s name. Refrain from further persecuting Jehovah’s witnesses; otherwise God will destroy you and your national party.” But that was not the end of it.
The Gestapo intensified their efforts to crush the activity of Jehovah’s Witnesses. After mass arrests in 1936, they thought that perhaps they had succeeded. But then, on December 12, 1936, some 3,450 Witnesses who were still free in Germany blitzed the country with a printed resolution that clearly stated Jehovah’s purpose and set forth the determination of Jehovah’s Witnesses to obey God as ruler rather than men. The opposers could not understand how such a distribution was possible. A few months later, when the Gestapo belittled the charges made in the resolution, Jehovah’s Witnesses prepared an open letter in which they unsparingly named the Nazi officers who had fiendishly abused Jehovah’s Witnesses. In 1937, this letter too was given wide distribution in Germany. Thus the deeds of wicked men were laid bare for all to see. This also gave the public opportunity to decide what course they personally would pursue regarding these servants of the Most High.—Compare Matthew 25:31-46.
Global Publicity Brings Some Relief
Other governments too have dealt harshly with Jehovah’s Witnesses, prohibiting their meetings and public preaching. In some cases these governments have caused the Witnesses to be forced out of secular employment and their children to be barred from the schools. A number of governments have also resorted to physical brutality. Yet, these same lands usually have constitutions that guarantee religious freedom. With a view to bringing relief to their persecuted brothers, the Watch Tower Society has frequently given worldwide publicity to details concerning such treatment. This is done by means of the Watchtower and Awake! magazines, and these reports are at times taken up by the public press. Many thousands of letters making appeals in behalf of the Witnesses then flood into the offices of government officials from all over the world.
As a result of such a campaign in 1937, the governor of Georgia, in the United States, received some 7,000 letters from four countries within a two-day period, and the mayor of La Grange, Georgia, was also deluged with thousands of letters. Such campaigns were likewise conducted in behalf of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Argentina in 1978 and 1979, Benin in 1976, Burundi in 1989, Cameroon in 1970, the Dominican Republic in 1950 and 1957, Ethiopia in 1957, Gabon in 1971, Greece in 1963 and 1966, Jordan in 1959, Malawi in 1968, 1972, 1975, and again in 1976, Malaya in 1952, Mozambique in 1976, Portugal in 1964 and 1966, Singapore in 1972, Spain in 1961 and again in 1962, also Swaziland in 1983.
As a recent example of what is done by Jehovah’s Witnesses worldwide to bring relief to their oppressed brothers, consider the situation in Greece. Because of the intensity of persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses at the instigation of the Greek Orthodox clergy there, in 1986 both the Watchtower and Awake! magazines (with combined international circulation of over 22,000,000 copies) reported details of the persecution. Witnesses in other lands were invited to write to officials of the Greek government in behalf of their brothers. They did; and as reported in the Athens newspaper Vradyni, the minister of justice was deluged with over 200,000 letters from upwards of 200 lands and in 106 languages.
The following year, when a case involving the Witnesses was heard in the appeals court in Hania, Crete, representatives of Jehovah’s Witnesses were present from seven other lands (England, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Spain, and the United States) as parties in the case and in support of their Christian brothers. Then, following an adverse decision in 1988 in the Supreme Court of Greece in yet another case involving the Witnesses, appeal was made to the European Commission of Human Rights. There, on December 7, 1990, 16 jurists from almost all parts of Europe were presented with a file of 2,000 arrests and hundreds of court cases in which Jehovah’s Witnesses in Greece had been sentenced because they spoke about the Bible. (Actually, there were 19,147 of such arrests in Greece from 1938 to 1992.) The Commission unanimously decided that the case should be heard by the European Court of Human Rights.
In some instances such exposure of the violation of human rights brings a measure of relief. Regardless of what action is taken by judges or rulers, however, Jehovah’s Witnesses continue to obey God as their Supreme Ruler.
Securing Legal Recognition
The authorization to carry on true worship obviously does not originate with any man or any human government. It comes from Jehovah God himself. In many countries, however, in order to secure the protection that is afforded by secular law, it has proved advantageous for Jehovah’s Witnesses to be registered with the government as a religious association. Plans to purchase property for a branch office or to do extensive printing of Bible literature may be facilitated by the forming of local legal corporations. In harmony with the precedent set by the apostle Paul in ancient Philippi in ‘legally establishing the good news,’ Jehovah’s Witnesses take appropriate action to accomplish this.—Phil. 1:7.
At times, this has been very difficult. For example, in Austria, where a concordat with the Vatican assures government financial support for the Catholic Church, the efforts of Jehovah’s Witnesses were at first repulsed by officials, who said: ‘Your intention is to form a religious organization, and an organization of that type cannot be constituted under Austrian law.’ In 1930, however, they were able to register an association for distributing Bibles and Bible literature.
In Spain the 20th-century activity of Jehovah’s Witnesses dates back to the time of World War I. But since the early years of the Inquisition in the 15th century, the Roman Catholic Church and the Spanish State had, with few exceptions, worked hand in glove. Changes in the political and religious climate led to allowance for individuals to practice another religion, but public manifestations of their faith were forbidden. In spite of these circumstances, in 1956 and again in 1965, Jehovah’s Witnesses sought to gain legal recognition in Spain. Yet, it was not until the Spanish Parliament passed the Religious Liberty Law of 1967 that any real progress was possible. Finally, on July 10, 1970, when the Witnesses already numbered more than 11,000 in Spain, legal recognition was granted.
Application for legal registration of the Watch Tower Society was made to the French colonial governor of Dahomey (now known as Benin) in 1948. But it was not until 1966, six years after the country became an independent republic, that such legal registration was granted. Still, that legal recognition was withdrawn in 1976 and then restored in 1990 as changes occurred in the political climate and in the official attitude toward religious freedom.
Although Jehovah’s Witnesses had enjoyed legal recognition in Canada for years, World War II provided an excuse for opposers to persuade a new governor-general to declare the Witnesses illegal. This was done on July 4, 1940. Two years later, when the Witnesses were granted opportunity to make representations to a select committee of the House of Commons, that committee strongly recommended that the ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses and their legal corporations be lifted. However, it was not until there had been repeated and extended debate in the House of Commons and much work had been done to gather signatures on two nationwide petitions that the minister of justice, a Roman Catholic, felt compelled to remove the ban completely.
Basic changes in the outlook of governments in Eastern Europe were required before Jehovah’s Witnesses could gain legal recognition there. Finally, after decades of appeals for religious freedom, the Witnesses were granted legal recognition in Poland and Hungary in 1989, in Romania and East Germany (before its unification with the Federal Republic of Germany) in 1990, in Bulgaria and what was then the Soviet Union in 1991, and in Albania in 1992.
Jehovah’s Witnesses endeavor to work in harmony with the laws of any nation. They strongly advocate, on the basis of the Bible, respect for government officials. But when the laws of men conflict with clearly stated commands of God, they reply: “We must obey God as ruler rather than men.”—Acts 5:29.
When Fear Causes People to Forget Basic Freedoms
Because of the increase in drug abuse on the part of many people and inflation, which has frequently forced both husbands and wives to take secular jobs, Jehovah’s Witnesses in the United States have found themselves confronted with new situations in their ministry. Many neighborhoods are nearly empty during the day, and burglary is rampant. People are fearful. In the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, a new wave of solicitation-licensing ordinances were enacted in order to keep track of strangers in communities. Some towns threatened Jehovah’s Witnesses with arrest if they did not obtain permits. But a sound legal foundation had already been laid, so efforts could be made to handle the problems out of court.
Where difficulties arise, local elders may meet with town officials to work out a solution. Jehovah’s Witnesses firmly refuse to ask for permission to do work that God has commanded, and the U.S. Constitution, buttressed by Supreme Court decisions, guarantees freedom of worship and of the press that is not subject to the payment of any fee as a precondition. But Jehovah’s Witnesses understand that people are fearful, and they may agree to notify the police before they start to witness in a certain area, if necessary. However, if no acceptable compromise can be reached, an attorney from the Society’s headquarters will correspond with local officials explaining the work of Jehovah’s Witnesses, the constitutional law that supports their right to preach, and their ability to enforce that right through federal civil rights damage actions against the municipality and its officials.f
In some lands it even proves necessary to go into court to reaffirm basic freedoms that have long been taken for granted. That was true in Finland in 1976 and again in 1983. Ostensibly to preserve peace for householders, a rash of local ordinances prohibited religious work that involved going from house to house. However, it was pointed out in court in Loviisa and in Rauma that house-to-house preaching is part of the religion of Jehovah’s Witnesses and that the government had approved this method of evangelizing when it granted a charter to the religious association of Jehovah’s Witnesses. It was also shown that many people welcome the calls of the Witnesses and that it would be an abridgment of freedom to ban such activity just because not everyone appreciates it. Following the successful conclusion of those cases, many towns and cities repealed their ordinance.
Shaping of Constitutional Law
The activity of Jehovah’s Witnesses has, in some lands, been a major factor in shaping the law. Every American law student well knows the contribution made by Jehovah’s Witnesses to the defense of civil rights in the United States. Reflecting the extent of this contribution are articles such as the following: “The Debt of Constitutional Law to Jehovah’s Witnesses,” which appeared in the Minnesota Law Review, of March 1944, and, “A Catalyst for the Evolution of Constitutional Law: Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Supreme Court,” published in the University of Cincinnati Law Review, in 1987.
Their court cases make up a significant portion of American law relating to freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and freedom of the press. These cases have done much to preserve the liberties not only of Jehovah’s Witnesses but also of the entire populace. In a speech at Drake University, Irving Dilliard, a well-known author and editor, said: “Like it or not, the Jehovah’s Witnesses have done more to help preserve our freedoms than any other religious group.”
And regarding the situation in Canada, the preface to the book State and Salvation—The Jehovah’s Witnesses and Their Fight for Civil Rights declares: “The Jehovah’s Witnesses taught the state, and the Canadian people, what the practical content of legal protection for dissenting groups should be. Moreover, the . . . persecution [of the Witnesses in the province of Quebec] led to a series of cases that, in the 1940s and 1950s, made their way to the Supreme Court of Canada. They too made an important contribution to Canadian attitudes about civil rights, and they constitute the bedrock of civil-liberties jurisprudence in Canada today.” “One of the results” of the Witnesses’ legal battle for freedom of worship, the book explains, “was the long process of discussion and debate that led to the Charter of Rights,” which is now part of the fundamental law of Canada.
Supremacy of God’s Law
Primarily, however, the legal record of Jehovah’s Witnesses has been a testimony to their conviction that divine law is supreme. At the root of the position they have taken is their appreciation of the issue of universal sovereignty. They recognize Jehovah as the only true God and the rightful Sovereign of the universe. They therefore firmly take the position that any laws or court decisions that would prohibit the doing of what Jehovah commands are invalid and that the human agency that has imposed such restrictions has exceeded its authority. Their stand is like that of the apostles of Jesus Christ, who declared: “We must obey God as ruler rather than men.”—Acts 5:29.
With God’s help Jehovah’s Witnesses are determined to preach this good news of God’s Kingdom in all the inhabited earth for a witness to all nations before the end comes.—Matt. 24:14.
a The first issue was dated October 1, 1919. Distribution of that magazine and its successors, Consolation and Awake!, has been extraordinary. As of 1992, the regular circulation of Awake! was 13,110,000 in 67 languages.
b As a general policy, when taken to court because of witnessing, Jehovah’s Witnesses appealed their cases instead of paying fines. If a case was lost on appeal, then, instead of paying the fine, they went to jail, if allowed to do so by law. The persistent refusal of the Witnesses to pay fines helped to discourage some officials from continuing to interfere with their witnessing activity. While this policy may still be followed under some circumstances, The Watchtower of April 1, 1975, showed that in many cases a fine could properly be viewed as a judicial penalty, so paying it would not be an admission of guilt, just as going to jail would not prove one’s guilt.
c Lovell v. City of Griffin, 303 U.S. 444 (1938).
d Schneider v. State of New Jersey (Town of Irvington), 308 U.S. 147 (1939).
e 310 U.S. 296 (1940).
f 297 Mass. 65 (1935). The case involved an eight-year-old schoolboy, whose name is correctly spelled Carleton Nichols.
g 302 U.S. 656 (1937) (from Georgia).
h 303 U.S. 624 (1938) (from New Jersey).
i 306 U.S. 621 (1939) (from California).
j 306 U.S. 621 (1939) (from Massachusetts).
k 310 U.S. 586 (1940). Walter Gobitas (correct spelling), the father, along with his children William and Lillian, had gone to court to restrain the school board from refusing to permit the two children to attend the Minersville public school because the children would not salute the national flag. The federal district court and the circuit court of appeals both decided in favor of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Then the school board appealed the case to the Supreme Court.
l 316 U.S. 584 (1942).
a 319 U.S. 105 (1943).
b During the calendar year 1943, petitions and appeals in 24 legal cases involving Jehovah’s Witnesses were submitted to the Supreme Court of the United States.
c 319 U.S. 624 (1943).
d 319 U.S. 583 (1943).
e From 1919 through 1988, petitions and appeals in a total of 138 cases involving Jehovah’s Witnesses were made to the U.S. Supreme Court. One hundred thirty of these cases were submitted by Jehovah’s Witnesses; eight, by their adversaries at law. In 67 cases the Supreme Court refused to review the cases because, as the Court viewed the matter at the time, no important federal constitutional or statutory questions were raised. In 47 of the cases that the Court did consider, the decisions were favorable to Jehovah’s Witnesses.
f Jane Monell v. Department of Social Services of the City of New York, 436 U.S. 658 (1978).
[Blurb on page 680]
Government bans were placed on Jehovah’s Witnesses in one land after another
[Blurb on page 682]
The case was dismissed, and the priest rushed from the courthouse in a rage!
[Blurb on page 693]
Some officials became more careful in their handling of cases involving the Witnesses
[Box on page 684]
A Witness to the U.S. Supreme Court
When appearing before the Supreme Court of the United States as legal counsel in the “Gobitis” case, Joseph F. Rutherford, a member of the New York Bar and the president of the Watch Tower Society, clearly focused attention on the importance of submitting to the sovereignty of Jehovah God. He said:
“Jehovah’s witnesses are those who bear testimony to the name of Almighty God, whose name alone is JEHOVAH. . . .
“I call attention to the fact that Jehovah God, more than six thousand years ago, promised to establish through the Messiah a government of righteousness. He will keep that promise in due season. The present-day facts in the light of prophecy indicate that it is near. . . .
“God, Jehovah, is the only source of life. No one else can give life. The State of Pennsylvania cannot give life. The American Government cannot. God made this law [forbidding the worship of images], as Paul puts it, to safeguard His people from idolatry. That is a small thing, you say. So was the act of Adam in eating of the forbidden fruit. It was not the apple that Adam ate, but it was his act of disobeying God. The question is whether man will obey God or obey some human institution. . . .
“I remind this Court (it is hardly necessary that I do so) that in the case of ‘Church v. United States’ this Court held that America is a Christian nation; and that means that America must be obedient to the Divine law. It also means that this Court takes judicial notice of the fact that the law of God is supreme. And if a man conscientiously believes that God’s law is supreme and conscientiously deports himself accordingly, no human authority can control or interfere with his conscience. . . .
“I may be permitted to call attention to this: that at the opening of every session of this Court the crier announces these words: ‘God save the United States and this honorable Court.’ And now I say, God save this honorable Court from committing an error that will lead this people of the United States into a totalitarian class and destroy all the liberties guaranteed by the Constitution. This is a matter that is sacred to every American who loves God and His Word.”
[Box on page 687]
Setting the Stage for a Reversal
When the American Supreme Court ruled, in 1940, in “Minersville School District v. Gobitis,” that schoolchildren could be required to salute the flag, eight of the nine justices concurred. Only Justice Stone dissented. But two years later, when registering their dissent in the case of “Jones v. Opelika,” three more justices (Black, Douglas, and Murphy) took the occasion to state that they believed that the “Gobitis” case had been wrongly decided because it had put religious freedom in a subordinate position. That meant that four of the nine justices were in favor of reversing the decision in the “Gobitis” case. Two of the other five justices who had downplayed religious freedom retired. Two new ones (Rutledge and Jackson) were on the bench when the next flag-salute case was presented to the Supreme Court. In 1943, in “West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette,” both of them voted in favor of religious freedom instead of compulsory flag saluting. Thus, by a vote of 6 to 3, the Court reversed the position it had taken in five earlier cases (“Gobitis,” “Leoles,” “Hering,” “Gabrielli,” and “Johnson”) that had been appealed to this Court.
Interestingly, Justice Frankfurter, in his dissent on the “Barnette” case, said: “As has been true in the past, the Court will from time to time reverse its position. But I believe that never before these Jehovah’s Witnesses cases (except for minor deviations subsequently retraced) has this Court overruled decisions so as to restrict the powers of democratic government.”
[Box on page 688]
“An Age-Old Form of Missionary Evangelism”
In 1943, in the case of “Murdock v. Pennsylvania,” the Supreme Court of the United States said, among other things:
“The hand distribution of religious tracts is an age-old form of missionary evangelism—as old as the history of printing presses. It has been a potent force in various religious movements down through the years. This form of evangelism is utilized today on a large scale by various religious sects whose colporteurs carry the Gospel to thousands upon thousands of homes and seek through personal visitations to win adherents to their faith. It is more than preaching; it is more than distribution of religious literature. It is a combination of both. Its purpose is as evangelical as the revival meeting. This form of religious activity occupies the same high estate under the First Amendment as do worship in the churches and preaching from the pulpits. It has the same claim to protection as the more orthodox and conventional exercises of religion. It also has the same claim as the others to the guarantees of freedom of speech and freedom of the press.”
[Box on page 690]
“Equal Rights to All”
Under the above heading, in 1953 a Canadian columnist, well-known at the time, wrote: “A large bonfire on Parliament Hill should celebrate the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision in the Saumur case [which was brought before the Court by Jehovah’s Witnesses]; a bonfire worthy of a great occasion. Few decisions in the history of Canadian justice can have been more important. Few courts can have done better service than this to Canada. None has placed Canadians who value their inheritance of freedom more deeply in its debt. . . . The deliverance cannot be celebrated with the bonfires it deserves.”
[Box on page 694]
A Firm Declaration to the Nazi State
On October 7, 1934, the following letter was sent to the German government by every congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Germany:
“TO THE OFFICIALS OF THE GOVERNMENT:
“The Word of Jehovah God, as set out in the Holy Bible, is the supreme law, and to us it is our sole guide for the reason that we have devoted ourselves to God and are true and sincere followers of Christ Jesus.
“During the past year, and contrary to God’s law and in violation of our rights, you have forbidden us as Jehovah’s witnesses to meet together to study God’s Word and worship and serve him. In his Word he commands us that we shall not forsake the assembling of ourselves together. (Hebrews 10:25) To us Jehovah commands: ‘Ye are my witnesses that I am God. Go and tell the people my message.’ (Isaiah 43:10, 12; Isaiah 6:9; Matthew 24:14) There is a direct conflict between your law and God’s law, and, following the lead of the faithful apostles, ‘we ought to obey God rather than men,’ and this we will do. (Acts 5:29) Therefore this is to advise you that at any cost we will obey God’s commandments, will meet together for the study of his Word, and will worship and serve him as he has commanded. If your government or officers do violence to us because we are obeying God, then our blood will be upon you and you will answer to Almighty God.
“We have no interest in political affairs, but are wholly devoted to God’s kingdom under Christ his King. We will do no injury or harm to anyone. We would delight to dwell in peace and do good to all men as we have opportunity, but, since your government and its officers continue in your attempt to force us to disobey the highest law of the universe, we are compelled to now give you notice that we will, by his grace, obey Jehovah God and fully trust Him to deliver us from all oppression and oppressors.”
[Box on page 697]
Witnesses Under Ban Clearly State Their Position
The organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses was put under government ban in Canada in 1940. There were over 500 prosecutions thereafter. What defense could the Witnesses offer? Respectfully but firmly, they made statements to the Court along the following lines:
‘I have no apologies to offer for these books. They teach the way to eternal life. I sincerely believe them to explain the purpose of Almighty God to establish a Kingdom of righteousness in the earth. To me, they have been the greatest blessing of my life. In my opinion it would be a sin against the Almighty to destroy these books, and the message of God they contain, in the same way as it would be a sin to burn the Bible itself. Every person must choose whether he will risk the disapproval of men or the disapproval of the Almighty God. For myself I have taken my stand on the side of the Lord and His Kingdom, and I seek to honor the name of the Most High, which is Jehovah, and if I am to be penalized for that, then there is responsibility before God to be taken by those who impose the penalty.’
[Box on page 698]
How Members of the Canadian Government Viewed It
Here are statements made by some of the members of the Canadian House of Commons in 1943 when urging the minister of justice to remove the ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses and their legal corporations:
“No evidence was put before the committee by the department of justice which indicated that at any time Jehovah’s witnesses should have been declared an illegal organization . . . It is a disgrace to the Dominion of Canada that people should be prosecuted for their religious convictions in the way in which these poor people have been prosecuted.” “In my opinion it is clear, pure religious prejudice that is maintaining the ban.”—Mr. Angus MacInnis.
“The experience of most of us has been that these are harmless people, devoid of any intent to do wrong to the state. . . . Why has the ban not been lifted? It cannot be because of any fear that this organization is detrimental to the welfare of the state, or that its actions are subversive to the war effort. There has never been even the slightest evidence that such is the case.”—Mr. John G. Diefenbaker.
“It does make one wonder whether the action against Jehovah’s Witnesses is largely on account of their attitude toward the Roman Catholics, instead of their attitude of a subversive nature.”—Mr. Victor Quelch.
[Box on page 699]
“Service to the Cause of Religious Freedom”
“It would not be fair to dismiss this brief survey of the troubles of Jehovah’s Witnesses with the State without referring to the service to the cause of religious freedom under our Constitution which has been rendered as a result of their persistence. In recent years they have taken the time of the courts more than any other religious group, and they have appeared to the public to be narrow-minded, but they have been true to their conscientious convictions, and as a result the Federal courts have rendered a series of decisions which have secured and broadened the religious-freedom guarantees of American citizens, and have protected and extended their civil liberties. Some thirty-one cases in which they were involved came before the Supreme Court in the five years from 1938 to 1943, and the decisions in these and later cases have greatly advanced the cause of the freedoms of the Bill of Rights in general, and the protection of religious freedom in particular.”—“Church and State in the United States,” by Anson Phelps Stokes, Volume III, 1950, page 546.
[Box/Pictures on page 700, 701]
Rejoicing in Their Freedom to Worship
In many lands where Jehovah’s Witnesses did not have full religious freedom in the past, they now meet openly for worship and freely share with others the good news of God’s Kingdom.
During the 1940’s, the few Witnesses here in Châteauguay were attacked by a mob. In 1992, more than 21,000 Witnesses in the province of Quebec were meeting freely in their Kingdom Halls
St. Petersburg, Russia
In 1992, a total of 3,256 presented themselves for baptism at the first international convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia
After Jehovah’s Witnesses in Spain were granted legal recognition in 1970, large signs on meeting places reflected their joy at being able to assemble openly
Witnesses in Estonia have been grateful to receive Bible literature without hindrance since 1990
Within a year after Jehovah’s Witnesses were given legal status here in 1991, more than 50 congregations of enthusiastic Witnesses were carrying out their ministry in and around the capital city
On arrival at a meeting in 1990, many were surprised to see a banner publicly welcoming Jehovah’s Witnesses. Here they learned that the ban on their worship had been lifted
Shown below are a few who served Jehovah under government ban for 40 years. In 1991, they rejoiced to be together at an international convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Prague
When the ban was lifted in 1992, over 50,000 individuals and families welcomed the Witnesses to study the Bible with them
Meetings in this land (often in rented halls) are well attended, especially since Jehovah’s Witnesses were granted legal recognition in 1991
[Pictures on page 679]
In 138 cases involving Jehovah’s Witnesses, appeals and petitions have been presented to the U.S. Supreme Court. For 111 of these, from 1939 to 1963, Hayden Covington (shown here) served as attorney
[Picture on page 681]
Maurice Duplessis, premier of Quebec, publicly kneeling before Cardinal Villeneuve in the late 1930’s and putting a ring on his finger as evidence of the close ties between Church and State. In Quebec, persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses was especially intense
[Picture on page 683]
W. K. Jackson, who was on the Society’s headquarters legal staff, served for ten years as a member of the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses
[Picture on page 685]
Rosco Jones, whose case involving the ministry of Jehovah’s Witnesses went twice to the U.S. Supreme Court
[Pictures on page 686]
Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court who, by a vote of 6 to 3 in the “Barnette” case, rejected compulsory flag saluting in favor of freedom of worship. This reversed the Court’s own earlier decision in the “Gobitis” case
Children involved in the cases
Lillian and William Gobitas
Marie and Gathie Barnette
[Picture on page 689]
Aimé Boucher, acquitted by Canada’s Supreme Court in a decision that rejected charges of sedition against Jehovah’s Witnesses
[Pictures on page 691]
This tract, in three languages, informed all of Canada of atrocities committed against Jehovah’s Witnesses in Quebec
[Pictures on page 692]
It became necessary to teach Jehovah’s Witnesses legal procedures so they could deal with opposition to their ministry; these are some of the legal publications they used