COVINGTON / MUHAMMED ALI / DISFELLOWSHIP (What do they have in common?)
“Hayden C. Covington, one of the most influential figures in the history of First Amendment law. Beyond the numerous First Amendment cases he argued or co-argued in the Supreme Court, he also prevailed on behalf of the Witnesses in over “100 decisions handed down by various state supreme courts, and . . . also triumphed in dozens of lower federal court rulings.” Even so, we know relatively little about Hayden Covington. One will look long and hard to find his name in any First Amendment treatise or casebook…”
Hayden Covington was a lawyer, the vice-president of the Watchtower Society, and one of the most famous Witnesses for decades. A Bethelite – resident at headquarters – from 1939 to 1963 during which time he took about 44 Witness cases to the supreme court, winning an amazing 85 percent of them.
A very imposing man, about 6'3'', quite extroverted and confident, he was impressively articulate. Covington lived in a well-kept, small brick house on Nichols Street in a lower-middle-class neighborhood in Cincinnati, Ohio. He owned hundreds of books, and at least thirty books on vocabulary building and how to use words effectively.
Alcohol became a problem with Covington (and was part of the reason why he left Bethel). He idolized Judge Rutherford who himself was by reputation a famous opponent of Prohibition. The two were peas in a pod as the saying goes. Twin sons of different mothers. Brothers in Battle against the World. Both men had worked their way through law school the old-fashioned way: bootstraps.
At the time of their camaraderie, a good-old-boys culture pervaded the Watchtower organization in Brooklyn. Rutherford took no prisoners when it came to denouncing his enemies whether outside or inside the organization. He and Covington were strong men, fighters who never backed down from a fight.
Martyrs / Martyrdom were a price Rutherford was willing to pay and the policies he crafted as religious dogma provoked the burning hatred of every secular authority he could find.
Covington: “I was originally in casualty insurance, defense, personal injury, and representing insurance companies in cases of damage suits; then bond forfeiture cases and bond obligation cases. Then, when I went to Bethel I was in a different area altogether. But, still, I had had enough trial experience in appellate argument and court experience that it was easy for me to shift into the position of defending Jehovah's Witnesses and it was good because I was able to do what I liked which was to defend my client. Also having got a righteous cause gives you a double barrel.”
Nathan H. Knorr joined the Bethel ‘family’ in 1923 as a volunteer and close personal friend of Fred Franz. Six years later, push came to shove, as it were. Knorr was seen and regarded by Rutherford and Covington as less than manly and a distance of sorts began to widen between them because of a particular incident (Later related by Covington in an interview tape-recorded in his home.)
This incident involved a fight between Witnesses and Catholics at Madison Square Garden in 1939. Rutherford, at the time, staged public lectures in large venues denouncing churches, preachers, and religions in no uncertain terms.
He was surrounded by Brothers with hickory canes as weapons in case of trouble with mobs.
Fights did break out. Rutherford provoked these reactions on purpose.
In this instance, Covington’s opinion concluded that Knorr should have stayed and fought and "beat the s---t out of those bastards" (referring to unruly mobs of Catholics).
Knorr snuck out "like a coward" and was “unwilling to physically fight.” Complained Covington.
Nathan Homer Knorr wanted to reshape the organization more like a business and less like a Thunderdome death match. He and Covington did not mesh on this. At all.
Covington and Rutherford were viewed as Sampson incarnate. Knorr avoided conflict. Two sides to the same theocratic coin.
Covington had no qualms about fighting physically. He said, "If someone looks at me the wrong way I'll beat the s---t out of him."
This is one reason why he did so well in court.
Covington freely used profanity, which could have been due to his Texas upbringing (his father was a Texas Ranger) although he was good with words, was very aggressive in court, and loved battering down his opponent’s arguments in defensive of a righteous cause.
What were Covington and Rutherford’s winning strategy for Jehovah’s Witnesses?
The Watchtower defense plan covertly prepped the Brothers, telling them what to do and say when arrested - taking care not to mention they had been coached by Watchtower. Some congregations actually staged mock arrest trials on Thursdays at the service meeting. They stressed: be calm and cool, be polite, and don't get upset. Let them abuse you. This, of course, is good advice; don't give them an excuse to abuse you, but meekly submit and be arrested. Politely try to explain what JW’s are doing, the reasons, and the law (JW’s had cards they were given with court cases cited).
Final step: call an attorney (a list of attorneys who were sympathetic), and find someone to set bail. Being arrested and serving time was seen as great publicity advertising to the world at large JW’s had the true religion; faithful and uncompromising even to death.
Covington looked for cases and people who were able to WIN.
They would interview a person testing how they performed under cross-examination and conclude, "He's not quite right. He loses his cool and is not very articulate." They wanted people who had good reputations in the community, who were store owners, or shopkeepers that had a good chance of winning. They tried to eliminate all extraneous things that are brought up in court cases.
They wanted women, especially presentable, attractive women who were articulate and had children who they felt would elicit sympathy from the jury. They wanted jury trials so they could play on the jury’s emotions and argue that the victim was just a mother doing "God's will."
Most of the cases were white (they thought they may lose if the Witness involved was Black in front of a prejudiced jury of white men. The strategy was heartless but - he felt - necessary to secure victory.)
When they lost a case, they would analyze it, learn from it, and then try not to make the same mistakes in the future. They wrote letters to the local congregations, asking, "If any case comes up, be sure and let us know." Even if they did not defend a case, they wanted to be aware of it when looking for test cases. They had a lot of cases to pick from, so they would evaluate 300 cases, narrow it down to five, then down to one.
Headquarters would send people into areas they knew could cause problems. One case involved a large Catholic population where there had been opposition and a priest that was an active Witness opposer. They would smoke out the confrontation telling the Brothers, "You ought to go into this territory, it hasn't been preached in a while." Decisions about which communities to target were made at Bethel by the leadership and there was very little questioning by the Witnesses about where they were asked to go. Strictly don’t ask / don’t tell.
Rutherford and Covington were pushing, prodding, provoking the backlash to come and preparing a pretext for the legal cases to follow.
(Note: Rutherford established this pattern immediately after taking hold of the Presidency of the Watchtower. He sanctioned the writing, release, and publicity of a new book, THE FINISHED MYSTERY and it is this book which caused his imprisonment along with the Board of Directors.
On May 7, 1918 federal warrants were issued for President Rutherford, the general manager, the secretarytreasurer, the two compilers of The Finished Mystery, and three other members of the Society’s editorial committee for violation of the 1917 Espionage Act. They were charged with conspiring to cause insubordination in the military, conspiring to obstruct the recruiting service, attempting to cause insubordination in the military, and obstructing the recruiting service . . . The government’s evidence consisted primarily of the publications mentioned in the indictment and a record of a meeting of the society’s board of directors at which The Finished Mystery was discussed. The government avoided the difficulty posed by the fact that the book had been written before the enactment of both the Draft Act and the Espionage Act of 1917 by arguing that its continued sale after the acts’ effective dates was sufficient. The jury was convinced, and each defendant was convicted on every count.
No one said, "They are sending us in here so we can get arrested" and if someone would have said that, the Society responded: "This is God's will, and God is fighting this battle. We are just His instruments."
Winning in court meant finding the right people, not those that could mess up the case. From prepping the Witnesses going into the field, to choosing the location, it was all planned by Covington.
(Source: https://ecollections.law.fiu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1369&context=lawreview )
As Rutherford approached death, he made known to all with voting proxies who his choice of President should be, Hayden Cooper Covington.
Knorr saw his chance and rounded up enough votes to counter this selection.
Covington remained Vice-President. Under Knorr. (Can you feel the tension?)
It didn’t take long before a change of policy by Knorr and Franz foreced him out.
The policy change resulted in Covington's resignation from the Vice Presidency and departure from the board in 1945; however, he remained on staff as legal counsel. In 1950, he wrote the Watch Tower tract, Defending and Legally Establishing the Good News to advise Witnesses of their constitutional rights in the United States.
After Rutherford passed and the businessman side emerged in Knorr, less and less demand for courtroom slugfests were needed. Less demand for Covington’s part as resident legal counsel.
In the early 1960s, straightforward draft cases of a procedural nature didn’t appeal to Covington’s temperament. His aggressiveness was less and less needed by the Watchtower Society. As a consequence, he began drinking seriously as he became more unhappy.
He was a crusader that needed a cause to fight for when Witnesses were heavily persecuted and were in the news a lot. He partnered up with Judge Rutherford and proclaimed, "I'm going to fight with these people and we're going to win."
He had so much respect for Rutherford that he would do whatever Rutherford asked and take anything that Rutherford gave him. But for most anybody else, he couldn't take direction without pushing back if it seemed a weak cause or approach.
Just like Rutherford, he wasn't very diplomatic, but shined in court: there he could be very aggressive, but that kind of temperament doesn't help one do well outside of a court - or seeking compromise in a Board Meeting. Or representing conscientious objectors who refuse to fight but who hire pugnacious attorneys to fight for them.
At the very end of his life, Covington hit bottom. He drank and drank and ended up with health problems, and realized that, if he didn't change his life, he was going to die. He died and his memorial was at the Kelly Assembly Hall in California on November 28, 1978.
At his death, many articles came out about his work and what he accomplished with the lawsuits that the Society had fought and won. His cases have a far-reaching effect on the media today because the Watchtower cases extended the concept of free distribution. Internet and media freedoms today rely heavily on Watchtower cases.
NOTE: “Between 1933 and 1951, there were 18,866 arrests of American Witnesses and about 1,500 cases of mob violence against them.”
“During one week in 1943, Covington argued fourteen cases before the United States Supreme Court.”
Representing Cassius Clay could have been a door to civil rights work, but Covington never did enter that door. He simply was not a team player. He flew solo or not at all.
My personal thoughts now follow.
When the Muhammed Ali opportunity arose, the lure of springing into the limelight involving the Supreme Court again was too good to miss, attorney-at-law Covington chose a compromise suggesting Muhammed Ali accept a guilty sentence and serve 18 mos. Probation instead of the maximum 5 years in Federal prison.
Morton Susman, United States Attorney had the offer ready for signature. Covington talked Ali into requesting that the Judge sentence him immediately! (To circumvent an appeal.)
This hasty suggestion frustrated and upset Ali's first-hired attorney, Quinnan A. Hodges of Houston. Quinnan saw the offer as a “starting” point for further negotiation. An angry reason Ali's handlers refused to pay Covington when all was said and done.
(Attorney M.W. Plummer and Attorney Chauncey Eskridge are the real legal heroes of the Ali story). You see, despite Covington - Ali never spent even one hour in jail.
This raises at least one question. How was Covington's approach to be viewed as being in his client’s best interest?
The judge's sentence was pronounced immediately at Clay's request (per Covington.)
"I'd appreciate it," the 25-year-old boxer said, "if the court will do it now, give me my sentence now, instead of waiting and stalling for time."
Federal District Judge Joe E. Ingraham sentenced Clay to five years in prison and fined him $10,000. This was the maximum penalty for the offense as a felony.
Prosecutor Morton Susman and Hayden Covington worked out the deal, but IT WAS NOT BINDING on the Judge!
According to Covington: he was blind-sighted at the very least - but at worst? He may have known all along it could go either way.
The Judge had apparently double-crossed him by refusing to grant probation. Or not. Who knows?
New York Times news article: "Both Mr. Covington and Mr. Hodges asked Judge Ingraham to put Clay on probation. Failing that, said Mr. Covington, the former champion should not be given a sentence more severe than those given in similar cases. "That's 18 months," he said."
How then, did Muhammad Ali avoid serving even ten minutes of incarceration?
The appeals process allowed his highly competent attorney, M.W. Plummer, to pursue the real problem in the case:
Ali's Draft Board didn't consider him to be sincere as a real minister
2. Ali failed the Army's intelligence test and did not qualify to serve
The Supreme Court in Clay v. the United States reversed his conviction in 1971.
(Ali’s birth name was Cassius Clay.)
“[T]he Department [of Justice] was simply wrong as a matter of law in advising that the petitioner’s beliefs were not religiously based and were not sincerely held,” the opinion said. Even though Ali prevailed 8-0 before the high court, Bob Woodward and Scott Armstrong later reported in The Brethren that the justices initially voted against him, finding that he wasn’t really a conscientious objector and that he should go to jail. Apparently, one of Justice John Marshall Harlan’s law clerks loaned the justice a copy of The Autobiography of Malcolm X. Harlan read the book and changed his views on Black Muslims.
The irony is this, most JW's ended up serving two years or more while Ali received NO prison time at all.
This is probably of little or no interest to anybody other than those of us Jehovah’s Witnesses
Who faced prison and “served” in prison during the Vietnam War years.
HAYDEN COVINGTON and DISFELLOWSHIP POLICY
The history of the Watchtower Society until 1952 is one of opposition to Disfellowship.
The last article to appear in the Watchtower to make this opposition clear was in 1947.
Between 1947 and the reversal of policy - something happened inside the Headquarters in NY.
A clash of dispositions, let’s call it between Covington and President Knorr and Fred Franz occurred and a strategy was developed to oust Covington.
The question remains: WHAT HAPPENED between 1947 and 1952 that caused a 180 turn from established scriptural policies?”
In 1940, Hayden C. Covington—then the Society’s legal counsel and one of the “other sheep,” with the earthly hope—was elected a director of the Society. (John 10:16) He served as the Society’s vice president from 1942 to 1945.
Hayden Covington was by all accounts an extraordinary force of nature and a natural fighter who never backed down from a confrontation either legal or personal. His hero was Watchtower Society President J.F.Rutherford who was also a staunch advocate of confrontation of one's foes.
In 1942, Rutherford was replaced by Nathan Knorr as the Society's leader.
According to Covington, it was he who "had the votes" to become the President. But, Knorr had "connived" him out of it.
An immediate clash of personalities resulted....at first UNKNOWN to Covington. Only gradually did the opposition become clear.
In an interview years later *, Covington referred to Knorr in pejorative terms. He called him "sneaky" and a "cobra" and called into question Knorr's courage because of having witnessed him back down from altercations with Catholics in a public forum.
Knorr did not want Covington as his vice-President. Rutherford insisted on his death bed that Covington be appointed. Knorr was poorly educated and Covington considered him ignorant.
Knorr was rankled by Covington's superior education and attempts to influence Society policy through intimidation. Consequently, Knorr engineered a change in policy to exclude non-anointed persons (other sheep) from serving as governing body members.
By 1945 Covington was forced out.
A public relations spin was offered that Covington had "graciously declined to serve" in view of the new policy. Everybody who ever met Covington knew quite well he NEVER backed down or withdrew!
Knorr's champion and fellow conspirator, Fred Franz, created the new policy in order to install Franz in place of Covington.
Covington was retained as the legal representative, however, attaining Supreme Court case wins in 80% of the lawsuits filed.
Two policies of Jehovah's Witnesses may well have been directly impacted by the personality of Covington and the discord with Franz and Knorr. The first was
the policy on Higher Education. Knorr considered Covington's irrepressible ego to be a direct result of "higher education" and a superior attitude.
As animosity grew, public statements by Covington embarrassed Knorr and Franz's sense of absolute rightness.
Testifying in a legal case concerning Matthew Barrie we find the following from: http://thegoverningbody.org/matthew-barrie-jehovahs-witness-judicial-hearing-glasgow-scotland-4/
Walsh Case (See essay The Martyring of Matthew Barrie – A Study in Ethics), and it was a chap who had some legal difference with the Organisation and the vice-president of the Society, Hayden Covington was testifying on the stand and the line of questioning led them down the route of ‘false prophet,’ and he asked various questions regarding the Organisation’s teachings and beliefs over the proceeding decades. (16:10)
And Brother Covington answered in the affirmative: ‘Is it conceded to be the case that your organization has made false prophecies? And he said, ‘Yes,’ and he said, ‘Would that mean that you’re false prophets?’ And he said, ‘That is conceded to be true.’
How could either of them win a battle with Covington in the court of public
Cases argued before the Supreme Court (37 wins)
Cantwell v. Connecticut, 310 U.S. 296 (1940)
Cox v. New Hampshire, 312 U.S. 569 (1941)
Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire, 315 U.S. 568 (1942)
Jones v. City of Opelika, 316 U.S. 584 (1942)
West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624 (1943)
Martin v. City of Struthers, 319 U.S. 141(1943)
Jamison v. State of Texas, 318 U.S. 413 (1943)
Murdock v. Pennsylvania, 319 U.S. 105 (1943)
Taylor v. State of Mississippi, 319 U.S. 583 (1943)
Largent v. Texas, 318 U.S. 418 (1943)
Follett v. Town of McCormick, 321 U.S. 573 (1944)
Marsh v. Alabama, 326 U.S. 501 (1946)
Tucker v. Texas, 326 U.S. 517 (1946)
Saia v. New York, 334 U.S. 558 (1948)
Niemotko v. Maryland, 340 U.S. 268 (1951)
Fowler v. Rhode Island, 345 U.S. 67 (1953)
Poulos v. New Hampshire, 345 U.S. 395 (1953)
Dickinson v. United States, 346 U.S. 389 (1953)