PORTUGAL: Petition to terminate the legal entity of the Jehovah's Witness gets national news coverage
There's nothing in the petition that will harm free speech and self-determination in matters of belief.
Here's a c&p of a brief:
Ok, so let me attempt to summarize the petition and explain its logic. It is long, yes, but it needs to be, because of who it is aimed at – members of the portuguese parliament. It deals with some technicalities of the Portuguese law.
SETTING: We all know how disfellowshipping / dissociation and ensuing shunning works, so no need to explain in detail. Our lawmakers don’t have much of a clue of what it entails, so I need to break it down for them. Also, one reason our lawmakers don’t like to deal with this, it’s because the very powerful Roman Catholic Church (RCC) also has a provision for excommunication and our lawmakers think that, if they challenge the Jehovah’s Witnesses version of excommunication, they might also open a legal precedent to challenge the RCC, and they simply don’t want to go there for fear of losing voters. So, some effort was put into explaining the differences, and how we aren’t challenging the right to excommunicate, but the core of the issue is the institutionally enforced shunning.
HISTORY: The Jehovah’s Witnesses came to Portugal in 1925, and were illegal for the most part of Oliveira Salazar’s dictatorship, known as “Estado Novo” and they went underground. With the revolution on the 25th of April of 1974 came religious freedom, and they were legalized in December 1974. A new Law of Religious Freedom (Law 16/2001) was adopted in 2001 and required the religions to register. Official registration and legal, officially recognized status, was given to the Jehovah’s Witnesses in 2009. This status means that they get some protection under the Law to freely organize their beliefs, teachings, meetings, preaching work, etc. But mostly, it grants them tax-exemption status and the right to officiate marriages.
LEGAL SCENARIO: The Portuguese Constitution incorporates the principles from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and also from the European Convention of Human Rights since 1978. Violation of these is equal to violating the Constitution. As such, INDIVIDUALS are free to practice any religion or belief of their choice. It is their right to gather for worship, to share their beliefs with others, to teach, and to get organized as collective religious entities. These religious entities (“RELIGIOUS NOT-FOR-PROFIT CORPORATIONS”) are separated from the state and in no way under the state’s control. The Constitution also makes provisions for individual rights and freedoms, such as the right to not be discriminated or hampered for holding or not holding a belief or changing religion, the freedom of conscience and thought and opinion, the right to a good name, the right to moral and physical integrity, the right to access a public job, the right to access justice, the right to access teaching etc. However, even if all these principles are noble, no one gets arrested or gets fined for violating the constitution. There needs to be a specific LAW that remits to the CONSTITUTION that is being violated. And then such LAW must include a provision for sanctions should it be offended, otherwise, no court can decide a penalty if the LAW doesn’t make any provision for it. Case in question, the LAW OF RELIGIOUS FREEDOM 16/2001 doesn’t have any provision for sanctions if it is offended. So how do we go on about it?
HOW WE ARGUE OUR CASE: The Law 16/2001 demands that all religious corporations be registered in order to benefit from charity-like status. If those criteria aren’t met, the registration may be refused. One of those criteria defined by law is that the corporation “doesn’t violate the constitutional limits of religious freedom”. What the heck is that? Where are those limits defined? The answer is: nowhere, really. So, we must argue that those limits are to be found on the limits of other competing individual rights. If we can prove that the teachings and practices of a religious corporation offend other individual rights that are also protected by the constitution, then we have proven “violation of the constitutional limits of religious freedom”. We believe that the shunning policy towards former members is one such case and the petition spends a considerable amount of words giving examples of how the shunning policy leads to trampling of individual rights. What then? The Law 16/2001 isn’t explicit on WHEN that refusal to register can be made, before or after. We argue that the state didn’t do a good job back in 2009 because it failed to investigate properly the teachings of the Jehovah’s Witnesses; had it been done, they would have concluded that they were violating the Constitution THEN. But there is no provision in the Law to nullify that register. So what now?
WHY WE HAVE TO ASK FOR THE TERMINATION OF THE CORPORATION: The ONLY provision that the Law 16/2001 leaves open is the cancellation of such register. This happens only when the religious coporation is dissolved. Then the LAW 16/2001 remits to the Civil Code regarding not-for-profit corporations. And here we see that such corporations may be dissoved, among other ways, by forceful judicial action IF “They pursuit their means by illegitimate or imoral means”. In that case, the State Prosecution or any interested individual may require the judicial extinction of the not-for-profit corporation, if it is able to argue that “illegitimate or imoral means” are being used to pursuit their goals. And here is the point we're arguing: The the “Associação Das Testemunhas de Jeová” is pursuing its goals by illegitimate and imoral means, because they are repeatedly violating the constitutional limits of religious freedom by their shunning policy. Therefore, we ask the corporation to be judicially dissolved, and their register cancelled, thus losing their charity status.
WHAT WE ASK AND WHAT WE DON’T ASK: We are not asking a ban on the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Portugal; the constitution would simply not allow that and it's not at all our intention. And we say that clearly, we don’t aim to stop the JW’s to gather for meetings or preach their faith. But we want them to STOP the institutionally enforced shunning as it is a violation of human rights and no institution should be allowed to teach discrimination based on religious grounds. And since it’s the state that calls upon itself to grant charity status, it’s the state that should also cancel that status if there are abuses. So we urge the state to direct the Public Prossecuter to investigate these allegations against the Jehovah’s Witnesses, since we are accusing them of crimes. We also call upon the legislators to revise the Law 16/2001 in order to include actual sanctions for religious-motivated discrimination and hate speech. And finally, we ask the parliament comission that evaluates this law, to summon the leaders of the Jehovah’s Witnesses to meet with the shunning victims and come to an understanding on what can be done to change their policies so that the victions stop being abused. (We know that ain’t happenning, not unless they are forced to....) Unless they make significant and permanent changes, they should permanently lose their charity status.
This is what the petition is all about. In the best possible scenario, the parliament would discuss our situation and would cancel the JW’s charity status in Portugal, The Watchtower would fight it and would take it all the way to the European Court of Human Rights, where this would become a landmark case. And I’m sure they would LOSE, because in Europe religions don’t get to tramp over the rights of individuals with the same leeway they get in the U.S.
The petition is nearing 700 signatures.
Within a few days, another national newspaper will have a feature article regarding Jehovah's Witnesses and shunning. Not specifically about my petition, although it will be mentioned, but regarding the broader issue. I'm particularly interested to see the results of that article.
Thank you for the explanation. I'm not completely sure of my opinion on this yet. I'll need to think on it. I will be interested in finding out if this goes anywhere though.
And I’m sure they would LOSE, because in Europe religions don’t get to tramp over the rights of individuals with the same leeway they get in the U.S. EdenOne
Portugal has made huge advances in well being and advancement for its people and in fact Western Europe is now ahead of North America in producing such prosperity. Overall the US has fallen behind because of its intolerance and we can see how such an intolerant spirit is reflected amongst Jehovahs witnesses.
EdenOne taking this is line ought to be very fruitful in the present climate.
A beacon of hope shines forth from Portugal!
Terminating the legal entity...
...paying back Caesar's thing to Caesar...
We have reached another milestone: 750 signatures. We are 3/4 of the way to the minimum 1000 signatures to avoid automatic dismissal of the petition and be granted an audience at the Parliament.
We know that this is causing quite a stir at the JW congregations, and, Bethel is well aware of it.
If you're a citizen of a E.U. country (even if you live outside of the E.U.), you can help with you signature. We need a final push to get us there.
You don't REALLY think bethel is worried about this, do you?
I'm a citizen of an EU country... just about. Where do I go to sign?
I have already signed it, but to be fair, we all know that this is just a way to draw some attention and news stories to the subject.
There is zero chance the government will do anything significant on this. Nevertheless, even some attention to the ridiculousness of this organization is already a good outcome.