I thought this example of why it is so hard to Sue the WT in the USA would be of interest, esp in cases of Dfing and DAing
Can I Sue the Watchtower for Disfellowshipping Me?
The following is a letter from a Watchtower attorney revealing the difficulties in the United States of:
- Having a friend or attorney sit in a Watchtower judicial meeting.
- Successfully suing the Watchtower for anything other than illegal or defamatory activity towards you.
- Questioning whether the ecclesiastical authorities of a church followed their own procedures strictly or not in determining matters of membership worthiness.
These are the main barriers disaffected Jehovah’s Witnesses face in attempting to affect the actions of the legal corporations of the Watchtower Bible & Tract Society in the United States. Such may not be true in Europe and other countries. Note that the words in bold red are accentuated by this review to highlight key points; such emphasis is not in the original letter.
LESLIE R. LONG
ATTORNEY AT LAW
25 Columbia Heights, Brooklyn, New York 11201, U.S.A. Telephone (718) 625-3600
March 29. 1987
Admitted To Bars Of
Mr. Xxxx xxxx
In re: Your status in the xxxx Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses, xxxxxxxxx
Dear Mr. xxxxxx:
I represent Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York. Inc., the parent organization of the congregations of Jehovah's Witnesses throughout the United States. I have been contacted by the xxxx Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses, xxxxxxx, advising that there is some question concerning your status as one of Jehovah's Witnesses in association with the xxxx Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses. xxxxxx.
I. THE JUDICIAL COMMITTEE ARRANGEMENT
I am sure you are well aware of the judicial committee arrangement o£ Jehovah's Witnesses. However, I would like to review for you the judicial committee arrangement for the benefit of any lawyer you may elect to retain in the future.
As you know, Jehovah's Witnesses base their beliefs on the Holy Scriptures and believe that "all Scripture is inspired of God and beneficial for teaching, for reproving, for setting things straight, for disciplining in righteousness." (2 Timothy 3:16) Therefore, the judicial committee has a Scriptural foundation and operates in a theocratic realm in conformity with Scriptural guidance.
The relation of a member of a congregation to the congregation is consensual as to both parties. A congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses is a voluntary association. Both the member and the congregation have a right to determine if they will remain united. The member has the right to disassociate himself from the congregation. The congregation also has the right to separate from a member if it is determined by an ecclesiastical tribunal, which Jehovah's Witnesses call a judicial committee, that a member is not conducting his life according to the tenets of the religion.
March 29, 1987
A. If a member no longer wishes to be one of J Jehovah's Witnesses, then the member may disassociate himself or herself from the congregation. The term "disassociation" applies to the action taken by a person who, although being a baptized member of the congregation, repudiates his or her Christian standing as such, rejecting the congregation and stating that he or she no longer wants to be recognized or known as one of Jehovah's Witnesses. A brief announcement would be made to inform the congregation that the person has voluntarily disassociated himself or herself from the congregation.
B. If a member is charged with wrongdoing and wishes to continue to be on of Jehovah’s Witnesses, then such one should submit to the hearings of the judicial committee.
The judicial committee is more than just a forum to determine whether a wrong has been committed as with a court of law. If charges of wrongdoing are brought to the attention of the body of elders of one's congregation, then they investigate the charges.
If it is established that there may be substance to the charges and evidence is produced showing that a serious sin actually may have been committed, the congregation's body of elders will assign a judicial committee, consisting usually of three elders, to handle the matter.
The judicial committee has the responsibility of protecting the congregation from the effects of a member's unscriptural conduct as well as helping a wrongdoer to mend his or her ways. While exercising watchful care over the congregation, seeking to protect it from any elements that would be spiritually damaging, the elders will also endeavor to use their spiritual qualifications to restore or reprove any who have erred. (Jude 21-23) This would be in harmony with instructions given to Timothy by the apostle Paul. He wrote: "I solemnly charge you before God and Christ Jesus, who is destined to judge the living and the dead, and by his manifestation and his kingdom, preach the word, be at it urgently in favorable season, in troublesome season, reprove, reprimand, exhort, with all long-suffering and art of teaching."-2 Timothy 4:1, 2.
C. Invitation, attendance and default. When elders of a judicial committee invite an individual to meet with the committee, an advance invitation is given. Information is given in the invitation as to the time and place of the hearing, the reason for it, and what the person's course of action is alleged to have been. If the person wishes to bring witnesses who can speak in his or her defense regarding the matter, the person may do so. If the person repeatedly fails to come to the hearing, the committee will go ahead with the hearing, but will not make a decision until evidence
March 29, 1987
and testimony are considered. The committee will not take action against the person unless the evidence clearly proves this necessary.
D. In every situation where guilt of a wrongdoer is established, a primary endeavor of the judicial committee is to restore the wrongdoer. It is the hope of the judicial committee that the wrongdoer will manifest genuine repentance, as indicated, for example, by producing "works that befit repentance." (Acts 26:20) Thus, the wrongdoer may be helped to 'make straight paths for his feet' thereafter.-Hebrews 12:13.
However, though the wrongdoer may wish to remain in the congregation, the wrongdoer may have become hardened in his or her course of wrong conduct and fail to respond to the efforts of the a elders who are acting in the capacity of a judicial committee to help this individual. Works befitting repentance may not be in evidence, nor may genuine repentance be apparent at the time of the hearing. In such cases it would be necessary for, the responsible elders to expel the unrepentant wrongdoer from the congregation, thus denying him or her fellowship with Jehovah's clean congregation. This would be done to protect other members of the congregation from the spiritually bad influence of the wrongdoer, safeguarding the moral and spiritual cleanness of the congregation and protecting its good name.-1 Corinthians 5:11-13.
E. When a judicial committee handling a case of wrongdoing reaches the conclusion that the unrepentant person would be disfellowshipped, then the committee will speak with the person and let the individual know of their decision to disfellowship him or her from the congregation. They clearly state the Scriptural reason(s) for the disfellowshipping action.
F. Appeal. When informing the wrongdoer of their decision, the judicial committee would tell the person that if he or she believes that a serious error in judgment has been made and wishes to appeal the decision of the committee, the person may do so by writing a letter clearly stating his or her reasons for the appeal. The person usually will be allowed seven (7) days for doing this.
If a member wishes an appeal hearing, then the member should make an application to the judicial committee that heard the case. If such written appeal is received, the body of elders will usually arrange for an appeal committee to rehear the case. Every effort is made to conduct the appeal within one week after the written appeal is received, but this is not a binding time limit requirement on the congregation. On occasion appeals have been granted
March 29, 1987
much later than the seven (7) days usually allowed for such action. If there is an appeal, announcement of the disfellowshipping will be held in abeyance. In the meantime, the accused person is asked to refrain from commenting and praying at meetings. He will not be assigned special privileges of service.
If the member that has been disfellowshipped does not indicate a desire to appeal, the judicial committee will then explain to the ex-member the need for repentance and what steps he or she can take toward being reinstated in due time. This is both helpful and kind, with the hope that the ex-member will change his or her ways, and in time qualify to return to good standing in Jehovah's organization.-2 Corinthians 2:6, 7.
G. Announcement of disfellowshipping, When it becomes necessary to disfellowship one from the congregation, a brief announcement is made, simply stating that the person has been disfellowshipped.
H. Reinstatement. A disfellowshipped person may be reinstated in the congregation when giving clear' evidence of repentance, demonstrating that he or she has abandoned the sinful course of conduct, and is desirous of having a good relationship with Jehovah and his organization. The elders are careful to allow sufficient time, perhaps many months, a year or even longer, for the disfellowshipped person to prove the genuineness of his or her profession of repentance. When the body of elders receives a written plea for reinstatement the original judicial committee that disfellowshipped the person would, if possible, be the committee that speaks with that individual, evaluating the evidence and works of godly repentance on the person's part, and decides whether to reinstate the person at that time or not.
When the judicial committee is convinced that the disfellowshipped person is genuinely repentant and should be reinstated, an announcement of the reinstatement is made. This is the course that a disfellowshipped person can take to regain a good standing in the congregation.
II. APPLICABLE SECULAR LAW
A word about the congregation's legal rights is appropriate. You may wish to hire an attorney to legally research this matter for you and independently advise you of the applicable law and of your legal rights.
A. A. Constitutional Law. Jehovah's Witnesses have considerable
March 29. 1987
court experience in vindicating their rights. Many court cases have been fought by Jehovah's Witnesses in the interest of preserving freedom of religion, speech, press and assembly. In the United States, appeals from lower courts resulted in the Witnesses winning 43 cases before the Supreme Court of the United States. They have probably fought and won more cases in the U.S. Supreme Court than any other organization in the United States. Similarly, favorable judgments have been obtained from high courts in the various states and in other lands. Concerning these court victories. Professor C. S. Braden, in his book These Also Believe, said of the Witnesses: "They have performed a signal service to democracy by their fight:, to preserve their civil rights for in their struggle they have done much to secure those rights for every minority group in America."
American law provides that ecclesiastical tribunals, such as the judicial committee arrangement o£ Jehovah's Witnesses, and their handling of disassociated ones are in a separate realm which will not be intruded upon by the courts.
A fundamental concept of American constitutional law is separation between church and state. This basic concept severely limits any inquiry by a secular court into religious matters. When dealing with matters of church administration and government -matters purely of ecclesiastical cognizance-secular courts have no power to review church decisions. In Watson v. Jones. 13 Wallace 679, 80 U.S. 679. 727 (1871), the United States Supreme Court held:
[W]henever the questions of discipline, or of faith, or ecclesiastical rule, custom, or law have been decided by the highest of these church judicatories to which the matter has been carried, the legal tribunals must accept such decisions as final, and is binding on them, in their application to the case before them.
The Court in Watson v- Jones reasoned that when dealing with matters o£ internal church discipline, a party having voluntarily assented to associating with a religious organization subjects himself to the existing rules and procedures of the church and cannot deny their existence.
The right to organize voluntary religious associations to assist, in the expression and dissemination of any religious doctrine, and to create tribunals for the decision of controverted questions of faith within the association, and for the ecclesiastical government of all the individual members, congregations, and officers within
March 29. 1987
the general association, is unquestioned. All who unite themselves to such a body do so with an implied consent to this government, and are bound to submit to it.
Id. at 728-29.
Decisions of some state courts began to allow limited judicial review of church disciplinary proceedings, in expulsion cases, to determine whether the church's procedural rules and regulations were properly followed in expelling a church member. See, e.g., Randolph v. First Baptist Church, 53 Ohio Op. 288, 120 N.E.2d 485:. (C.P., Hamilton Cty. 1954). However, these cases were expressly overruled by the United States Supreme Court in Serbian Eastern Orthodox Diocese v. Milivojevich, 426 U.S. 696 (1976). In reversing the Illinois Supreme Court's holding that the expulsion of a church bishop could be set aside as arbitrary because the proceedings against him had not been conducted in accordance with the church's constitution and penal code, the United States Supreme Court held;
[N]o "arbitrariness" exception-in the sense of an inquiry whether the decisions of the highest ecclesiastical tribunal of a hierarchical church complied with the church laws and regulations-is consistent with the constitutional mandate that civil courts are bound to accept the decisions of the highest judicatories of a religious organization of hierarchical polity on matters of discipline, faith, internal organization, or ecclesiastical rule, custom, or law. For civil courts to analyze whether the ecclesiastical actions of a church judicatory are in that sense "arbitrary" must inherently entail inquiry into the procedures that canon or ecclesiastical law supposedly requires the church judicatory to follow, or else into the substantive criteria by which they are supposedly to decide the ecclesiastical question. But this is exactly the inquiry that the First Amendment prohibits; recognition of such an exception would undermine the general rule that religious controversies are not the proper subject of civil court inquiry, and that a civil court must accept the ecclesiastical decisions of church tribunals as it finds them.
Id. at 713. See also Nunn v. Black, 506 F. Supp. 444 (W. D. Va. 1981), aff'd, 661 F.2d 925 (1981).
The Supreme Court in Serbian Eastern Orthodox Diocese specifically held that the First Amendment prohibits civil court inquiry into matters of internal church discipline. Likewise, in First
March 29, 1987
Baptist Church of Glen Este v. State, 591 F. Supp. 676 (S'D. Ohio 1983), the Court, citing Serbian Eastern Orthodox Diocese, held that church discipline is an ecclesiastical matter in a congregational church, just as it is in a hierarchical church. "Unless the internal disciplinary decisions of the plaintiff Church are tainted by fraud or collusion, . . . civil court inquiry with respect to the underlying reasons for church disciplinary action is constitutionally impermissible." l.d. at 683.
Matters of internal church discipline are wholly ecclesiastical in nature, and the First Amendment to the United States Constitution bars judicial review, of decisions of the judicial committee of Jehovah's Witnesses, even if proper church procedures are not followed. Therefore, secular courts are without authority to review the decisions of church judicial authorities relating to the ., status of a church member and must maintain a "hands off" policy with regard to those decisions. Kral v. Sisters of the Third Order, 746 F.2d 450 (8th Cir. 1984); Kaufmann v. Sheehan, 707 F.2d 355 (8th Cir. 1983). See also Catholic Bishop of Chicago v. N.L.R.B., 559 F.2d 1112, 1120 (7th Cir. 1977),. aff'd., 440 U.S. 490 (1979).
B. Congregational Announcements. An ex-member may object to any congregational announcement about his or her disfellowshipped or disassociated congregational status if such, an announcement be comes necessary. There are a variety of legal defenses that the congregation could raise if it is charged with uttering a defamatory statement while announcing or investigating a matter related to a member's congregational status. Among them are the following:
1. Truth. The maxim that "truth is an absolute defense" to defamation is correct in most states. This defense is most commonly justified on the ground that the dissemination of truth should not be impeded by the fear of a lawsuit.
2. Qualified privilege. Communications uttered between members of the congregations and relating to theocratic matters of mutual concern will not be considered defamatory if legal malice is absent. The following are some examples of cases that have occurred in other religious organizations:
a. Charges made by an officer of a church against the church's minister.-Browning v Gomez, 332 S.W.2d 588 (Tex. 1960).
b. Reading a sentence of excommunication of a church member in the presence o£ a church's congregation and charges made against a church member during a church investigation
March 29, 1987
into his character. This is similar to a Kingdom Hall announcement regarding one's congregational status.-Cimijotti v. Paulsen, 219 F. Supp. 621 (1963).
c. Communications between members of a religious organization concerning the conduct of other members or officers. -Willenbucher v. McCormick, 229 F. Supp. 659 (1964).
d. A communication made between officers of a church or denomination on any subject in which they both have an interest.-Church of Scientology v. Green, 354 F. Supp. 800 (1973).
Prior to the 1964 decision in the United States Supreme Court case, New York Times Company v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254 (1964), defamation law in the United States was controlled by common law principles developed in the state courts.
The common law imposed strict liability for defamation. Prosser's Restatement (Second) of Torts, Section 559 (1971) at page 739, defines the defamatory communication as' one which "tends so to harm the reputation of another as to lower him in the estimation of the community or to deter third persons from associating or dealing with him." One authority quoted by Prosser categorized statements as qualifiedly privileged if "fairly made by a person in the discharge of some public or private duty, whether legal or moral, or in the conduct of his own affairs, in matters where his interest is concerned." (Underline supplied.)
Since 1964 the United States Supreme Court has staked out an area of First Amendment privilege in defamation cases, which limited the states' power to permit recovery in defamation actions brought by public officials. (New York Times, supra) The Gertz v. Robert Welch, Inc., 418 U.S. 323 (1974), case returned to the states a measure of the autonomy which had been lost in the wake of the New York Times case. Hutchinson v. Proxmier, 443 U.S. 111 (1979), and Wolston v. Reader's Digest Association, 443 U.S. 157 (1979), are the more recent steps in the Supreme Court's continuing redefinition of the scope of constitutional privilege in defamation cases. These cases tend to limit a plaintiff's rights in defamation actions and appear to have little favorable impact on your rights.
C. Relation between the Congregation and Its Members. It is axiomatic that the essence of the relationship of a religious society with its members is held by the courts to be the agreement of the parties and, generally, a profession of faith, adherence to the doctrine of the religious society and a submission to its govern-
March 29, 1987
ment. (76 C.J.S. 755, section 11) A party having voluntarily assented to becoming a member of a congregation thereby subjects himself or herself to the existing rules and procedures of said congregation and cannot deny their existence. All who unite themselves to such a voluntary religious organization do so with the implied consent to this government and are bound to submit to it. State ex rel. Morrow v. Hill , 364 N.E.2d 1156 (Ohio 1977), Watson v. Jones, 80 U.S. 679, 729 (1871), 13 Wallace 679.
I understand that you have stated that you are not part of the organization of Jehovah's Witnesses and no longer an active Witness because you do not believe we are living in the "last days." This amounts to an expression of your resignation from the congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses as a matter of law.
Since membership questions are handled by a committee of elders in the local congregation, the elders will meet to consider your statements. If they find that you are no longer associated with Jehovah's Witnesses, as you say, then a determination that you have severed your ties with the congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses is likely. An announcement would then be made to the congregation that you are no longer associated with the congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses.
If at some time in the future you would wish to regain a good standing in the congregation, the congregation would encourage you to take advantage of the reinstatement procedure described above in section I. THE JUDICIAL COMMITTEE ARRANGEMENT, paragraph H.
If you would disagree with any such factual findings of the elders concerning your status in relation to the congregation, you would be able to request a review of the elders' determination by writing a letter to the body of elders within 30 days of their informing you of their determination, clearly stating your reasons for requesting a review and stating your willingness to submit to the congregational arrangement, including the judicial committee process.
If you feel that you have a legal case, then you may engage an attorney to advise you of your rights and prosecute your case. if that is your choice, then you or your attorney may be interested in the enclosed decisions as the issues are similar to those in your situation: Janice Paul (Perez) v Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc., et al., decision rendered June 16, 1985, by the United States District Court for the Eastern District of
March 29, 1987
Washington in Spokane; Howard Bates v Kingdom Hall, et al., decision rendered July 24, 1985, by the Common Pleas Court of Montgomery County, Ohio; dismissal of theocratic issues affirmed by Court of Appeals of Montgomery County, Ohio, on March 6, 1986; Timothy Tauvar v Bar Harbor Congregation, et al,, 633 F. Supp. 741 (D.Me. 1985), dismissal affirmed, 787 F.2d 579 (1st Cir. 1986), cert. denied, January 12, 1987, by Supreme Court of the United States; Joseph E. Maes and Veta Maes v. Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, et al., decision rendered May 1, 1985, by the Superior Court of California, County of Sacramento; Ray Rasmussen and Pauline Rasmssen n v. Larry C. Bennett, et al decision rendered September 9, 1986, by the District Court of the Ninth Judicial District of the State of Montana, in and for the County of Toole; and Maurice E. Cassels v. Elders of the Sunnyslope Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses, et al , decision rendered April 19, 1983, by the United States District Court for the District of Arizona.