Jehovah's Witnesses and governments
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Jehovah's Witnesses believe their allegiance belongs to God's Kingdom, which they view as an actual government. They refrain from saluting the flag of any country or singing nationalistic songs, [ 1 ] which they believe are forms of worship, although they may stand out of respect. They also refuse to participate in military service—even when it is compulsory—and do not become involved in politics. They believe Jesus' refusal to rule the kingdoms of the world as offered by the Devil, his refusal to be made king of Israel by the Jews, and his statements that he, his followers, and his kingdom are not part of the world, provide the bases for not being involved in politics or government. [ 2 ] [ 3 ] [ 4 ]
Witnesses are taught that they should obey laws of the governments where they live unless such laws conflict with their beliefs, such as operating covertly in countries where their activities are banned. [ 5 ] [ 6 ] They are instructed to pay all taxes of the country in which they reside, and consider governments to be solely responsible for how they are used. [ 7 ] [ 8 ]
[ edit ] Civil liberties
According to the book Judging Jehovah's Witnesses, [ 9 ] the Witnesses have helped to widen the definition of civil liberties in most western societies, hence broadening the rights of millions of people, due to their firm stand and determination. According to the preface to the book State and Salvation: [ 10 ] "One of the results of the Witnesses' legal battles 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. Other battles in countries around the world have involved the rights to decline military service or martial arts training, to decline to participate in political parties or governmental elections, to exercise free and anonymous speech, to exercise freedom of association, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, medical self-determination, etc. Witnesses continue to, in their words, 'defend and legally establish the Good News' around the world."
[ edit ] Government interactions
Many United States Supreme Court cases involving Jehovah's Witnesses have shaped First Amendment law. Significant cases affirmed rights such as these:
- Right to Refrain from Compulsory Flag Salute - West Virginia State Board of Education vs. Barnette
- Conscientious objection to military service
- Preaching in public
By 1988, the U.S. Supreme Court had reviewed 71 cases involving Jehovah's Witnesses as an organization, two-thirds of which were decided in their favor. In 2002, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society disputed an ordinance in Stratton, Ohio that required a permit in order to preach from door to door. The Supreme Court decided in favor of the Witnesses. [ 11 ]
[ edit ] Russia
[ edit ] Singapore
In 1972 the Singapore government de-registered and banned the activities of Jehovah's Witnesses on the grounds that its members refuse to perform military service (which is obligatory for all male citizens), salute the flag, or swear oaths of allegiance to the state. [ 14 ] [ 15 ] Singapore has banned all written materials (including Bibles) published by the International Bible Students Association and the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, both publishing arms of the Jehovah's Witnesses. A person in possession of banned literature can be fined up to S$2,000 (US$1,460) and jailed up to 12 months for a first conviction. 
[ edit ] France
In France, a number of court cases have involved Jehovah Witnesses and their organizations, especially on the question of their refusing blood transfusions to minor patients. These questions had far-reaching legal implications regarding the tax status of their organizations.
[ edit ] Association Les Témoins de Jéhovah
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Association Les Témoins de Jéhovah v. Direction des Services Fiscaux challenged the denial of tax-exempt status for Association Les Témoins de Jéhovah, the not-for-profit corporation used by Jehovah's Witnesses in France. Religion-supporting organizations (associations cultuelles) in France can request exemption from certain taxes, including taxes on donations, if their purpose is solely to organize religious worship and they do not infringe on public order. According to the French tax administration, tax-exempt status was denied because:
The association of Jehovah's Witnesses forbids its members to defend the nation, to take part in public life, to give blood transfusions to their minor children and that the parliamentary commission on cults has listed them as a cult which can disturb public order. [ 16 ]
On October 5, 2004, the Court of Cassation—the highest court in France for cases outside of administrative law—rejected the Witnesses' recourse against taxation at 60% of the value of some of their contributions, which the fiscal services assimilated to a legal category of donations close to that of inheritance and subject to the same taxes between non-parents. [ 17 ] It was found that the tax administration could legally tax the corporation used by Jehovah's Witnesses if they received donations in the form of dons gratuits and they were not recognized as associations cultuelles.
According to the Watch Tower Society, the taxed contributions include donations for the support of humanitarian relief efforts in Rwanda in 1994. French law makes a distinction between normal non-profit associations (whose donations for humanitarian aid are not tax-exempt), non-profit associations of public usefulness (whose donations for humanitarian aid are tax exempt), and associations supporting religious activities (whose donations are tax exempt). Humanitarian aid is not considered to support religious activities and thus, accordingly, is not considered to be tax-exempt under the rules governing associations supporting religious activities. Typically, religious organizations in France providing humanitarian aid found a separate association devoted to that purpose; it may then be declared of public usefulness.
The Conseil d'État, the supreme court for administrative matters, ruled that denying the statute of association cultuelle on grounds of accusations of infringement of public order was illegal unless substantiated by actual proofs of that infringement. [ 18 ]
On June 30, 2011, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) unanimously ruled that France's imposing a retroactive tax for the years 1993 and 1996 had violated Jehovah's Witnesses' right to freedom of religion [ 19 ] [ 20 ] under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights. [ 21 ] On July 5, 2012, the ECHR ordered the government of France to repay €4,590,295 in taxes, plus interest, and to reimburse the legal costs of €55,000. [ 22 ]
[ edit ] Other cases
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Other court cases have concerned the rights for patients, or of minor patients' legal guardians, to refuse medical treatment even if there is a risk of death. For example, in a 2001 case, doctors at a French public hospital who gave blood products to a patient with an acute renal insufficiency were found not to have committed a mistake of a nature to involve the responsibility of the State (communiqué, English translation). The Council stated that "there does not exist, for the doctor, an abstract and unalterable hierarchy between the obligation to treat the patient, and that to respect the will of the patient," concluding that faced with a decision to treat patients against their will, doctors do not have a legally predefined obligation to treat the patient, nor do they have a legally predefined obligation to abide by their wishes.
In a child custody case following a divorce, a woman was denied custody of her children outside of holidays for various reasons, including her membership of Jehovah's Witnesses; the court of appeals of Nîmes considered that the educational rules applied by the Witnesses to their children were essentially inappropriate because of their hardness, their intolerance, and the obligation for children to practice proselytism. The case went before the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) (request #64927/01), which ruled that the court should have based its decision on the mother's actual handling of her children and not on abstract, general notions pertaining to the mother's religious affiliation.
Some Witnesses requested that the National Union of the Associations for the Defense of Families and Individuals not be officially recognized as useful to the public because of its opposition to sectarian excesses which, the plaintiffs alleged persecuted Jehovah's Witnesses. Both the Conseil d'État and the ECHR rejected their claim.
[ edit ] Nazi GermanyMain article: Persecution of Jehovah's Witnesses in Nazi Germany
[ edit ] Other
The European Court of Human Rights has defended the rights of Jehovah's Witnesses in many cases. For example:
- Bayatyan v. Armenia. Grand Chamber of ECHR affirms right to conscientious objection to military service.(Amnesty International. 7 July 2011) See Amnesty International Statement
- Efstratiou v. Greece (18 December 1996), Strasbourg 77/1996/696/888 (Eur. Ct. H.R.)
- Manoussakis and Others v. Greece (26 September 1996), Strasbourg 59/1995/565/651 (Eur. Ct. H.R.)
- Hoffmann v. Austria (23 June 1993), Strasbourg 15/1992/360/434 (Eur. Ct. H.R.)
- Kokkinakis v. Greece (25 May 1993), Strasbourg 3/1992/348/421 (Eur. Ct. H.R.)
Other cases between Jehovah's Witnesses and governments of various countries include:
- Canada: Quebec Court of Appeal case on "freedom of thought, belief, opinion, and expression" set aside town ordinance restricting Witness activity. 
- Peru: Superior Court of Justice of Lambayeque in 2000 upheld right of Witness parents to control medical care of their children. A mother had been charged with neglect and endangerment for selecting successful non-blood medical treatment for her 10 year old son. 
- Eritrea: Eritrean Witnesses were stripped of citizenship and basic human rights in 1994 and have since widely experienced loss of employment, refusal of medical treatment, refusal of identity documents, arrest for assembly, proselytizing, and conscientious objection, as well as imprisonment for upwards of a decade, in some cases. 
- Rwanda: In 2005 the Presiding Judge of the Provincial Court in Ruhengeri ruled that Witnesses should not be imprisoned for refusing to bear arms in civil defense 'night patrols' since they were willing to participate and had participated in other forms of community service. 297 Witnesses had been imprisoned on such charges in an 8 month period of 2004. 143 of those imprisoned had been severely beaten. [ 23 ]
- Nigeria: In 2001 the Nigerian Supreme court unanimously decided in favor of the Witness right to medical self-determination in the case of blood transfusion. 
- Japan: The Supreme court in 2000 upheld the principle of "informed consent" with regard to a Witness patient's right to refuse a blood transfusion. 
- The Supreme court in 1996 upheld the right of Japanese Witness students to refuse martial arts training as part of physical education. Witnesses had been refused diplomas, forced to repeat a year of school, suspended and expelled based on their refusal to 'learn war.' 
- South Korea: The Supreme Court in 2004 upheld 7-2 as constitutional the law regarding compulsory military service which has resulted in more than 10,000 Witnesses serving prison terms in South Korea. In April 2005 more than 1000 Witnesses were serving prison terms in South Korea based on their conscientious objection to military service. However, 7 of the court's 9 members, including 5 of those in the majority, expressed a recommendation that the legislature add an alternative service option to the statute. 
Government officials in various countries, including Brazil, [ 24 ] Burundi  , Mexico, [ 25 ] [ 26 ] [ 27 ] Mozambique, [ 28 ] and Tuvalu [ 29 ] have commended Jehovah's Witnesses for conducting literacy classes and for providing religious educational materials.