A Work That “Cannot Fail to Arouse Respect”
THE apostle Peter admonished his fellow Christians: “Maintain your conduct fine among the nations, that, in the thing in which they are speaking against you as evildoers, they may as a result of your fine works of which they are eyewitnesses glorify God.” (1 Peter 2:12) For many years Jehovah’s Witnesses in Italy have publicly displayed such fine conduct. In the spirit of Jesus’ instruction to “preach from the housetops,” they perform all their Christian activity openly, in full public view. (Matthew 10:27; John 18:20) Consequently, when an Italian attorney and a priest published accusations that Jehovah’s Witnesses are “a pseudoreligious sect” and counted them in with “secret societies that entrap people,” the Witnesses decided to take legal action because of the defamatory statements.
In the first trial, the court concluded that the attorney and the priest had broken no law. However, on July 17, 1997, the Venice Court of Appeals overruled the first court’s decision, finding both defendants guilty. The Court of Appeals stated: “Both of the published articles in question contain expressions and phrases that are certainly capable of damaging the reputation of the followers of the religion of ‘Jehovah’s Witnesses.’ It seems evident that the intention of the articles is to expose its followers to public contempt.” The court stated that the articles “do not constitute legitimate exercise of the right of reporting and criticism.” The court fined the two defamers and also ordered them to pay all court costs, including all the Witnesses’ legal expenses for both cases.
In its written judgment, the Venice Court of Appeals commented: “Only by balancing and safeguarding all the rights guaranteed by the [Italian] Constitution is it possible to prevent forms of intolerance and religious fanaticism.” The decision acknowledges that the activity of Jehovah’s Witnesses is neither secret nor pseudoreligious. “To classify the Witnesses among secret societies,” noted the court, “does not even respect the criterion of historic truth, since the professed religion is present in many cities and the widespread proselytizing activity that is carried out by its members, particularly on Sundays and other holidays, is well-known and cannot fail to arouse respect for the efforts made, whatever one might think of the doctrine preached.” Thus, the record of zealous preaching and exemplary conduct of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Italy has helped to dissipate prejudice against them.—Matthew 5:14-16; 1 Peter 2:15.