Disfellowshipping decision to go before Canadian Supreme Court
High court will examine whether judicial review applies to membership decisions made by religious groups
The Supreme Court of Canada has agreed to hear an appeal involving a Calgary man who was kicked out of his Jehovah's Witness church.
Randy Wall, a real estate agent was "disfellowshipped" from the Highwood Congregation for being drunk on two occasions and allegedly verbally abusing his wife.
As a result, he says his clients refused to do further business with him, so he argued his property and civil rights were affected.
After losing three internal church appeals of his expulsion, Wall made an application with the Court of Queen's Bench in Calgary which ordered a hearing to first determine if there was jurisdiction for the court to hear the application.
Decisions and appeals
A judge decided the superior court did have jurisdiction to hear the application.
The church then appealed Wall's decision to the Alberta Court of Appeal, which upheld the Court of Queen's Bench, affirming the court has jurisdiction to hear the matter.
One of the three appeal court judges dissented — arguing that congregations are private organizations akin to bridge clubs, whose decisions "are not enforceable promises and have limited, if any, impact outside its small circle."
The Supreme Court will determine whether the Court of Queen's Bench has jurisdiction to decide on the matter of Wall's expulsion from the church.
Freedom of religion at stake, church lawyer says
The case will be an opportunity for the high court to explore "the boundaries between what is and is not justiciable with regard to membership and other disputes between members of voluntary associations," the Supreme Court of Canada website says.
Jayden MacEwan, the lawyer for the Highwood congregation, believes the courts have no place in this case.
"The majority of the Court of Appeal basically stated that any decision, even from a private body, can eventually end up in court," he said.
"So if you're not satisfied even because you've been kicked out of a basic voluntary organization, or even a social club, you can go to court and have the court review that decision. And we believe that that is simply wrong in law."
MacEwan says there are important Charter of Rights and Freedoms arguments at stake, such as freedom of association and freedom of religion.
"Can the court decide who you should be forced or compelled to worship God with? Or is that not more just a purely personal decision?"
Personally, I think this is a hard case to make but who knows, it could help to at least make them follow better processes and have clearer published guidelines rather than having the rules be whatever they decide they are that week and of course it's publicity about them and what they do.
Where I think it's impossible to deal with is the damage to business - presumably no one complains when they may get extra business due to the contacts within a religious group (they just don't like losing them when they are expelled). But how can that be legislated? You can't compel any other members to do business with someone and religious freedom means that anyone can say they don't like someone else's behavior and as a result don't seem them suitable association based on their beliefs.
If you, as a business owner, rely heavily on the patronage of a closed group then it's simply good business sense to either diversify or else make sure you don't jeopardize that relationship.
Surely there are far worse things being preached in churches and mosques than this to be concerned about? Like people calling for "death to jews" for example ...
What if some people( general public) heard about his drunkenness and abuse of his wife and after hearing this they decided they didn't want to have a business relationship with him ?
The presence of religion was not the pertaining or involving issue upon making that decision.
Of course being DFed as a JWS may have had some relevance to other JWS who may have thought about doing some business with him.
This is precisely why many Witnesses cannot leave the religion and are stuck playing a game of pretend.
It isn't just born-ins who are afraid of losing their family if they leave. JWs with businesses who have JW clients know that these JW clients will leave them in a New York minute if they ever leave or are DFd from the religion. How funny that all that togetherness that once seemed like a blessing is now a curse!
I'm so glad I never had any business dealings with JWs.
JWs with businesses who have JW clients know that these JW clients will leave them in a New York minute if they ever leave or are DFd from the religion.
I think it's problematic to try and make it into a business-loss argument for two reasons:
First, you simply can't legislate for people to do business with you - they have the right to make their own choices. The only thing that would cover it would be existing breach-of-contract law if someone broke off a business arrangement that was committed to.
Second, I think most people should be aware that the rules within the group are rather strict for people who leave. So if a business depends on the owner being a member of a religious group (which sounds like "affinity marketing") then it should be planned for to reduce that dependency because, well, see the above - there is no way to force people to stay customers and it's a business risk.
It's like the reverse of the gay-wedding-cake situation ... imaging the religious couple decide they don't want to buy a cake from a baker who they disapprove of for some reason. Should they be compelled to buy the cake?
Seriously, it's one thing to complain that something is unfair and that the WTS have too much power and negatively impact people's lives, of course it is and they do. But what is the goal? What should be changed and how? What is the law that can be passed to prevent it? I would press a button and ban religion if I could, but that ain't gonna happen - assume that freedom of religion is not going anywhere, what's the outcome?
You are right that you can't legislate that people do business with you, which is why I think this guy doesn't really have a case.
What I'm saying is this is the unintended consequence of being in a closed group like the JWs and having dealings only with them.
Any Lurkers here should take notice and diversify their client base!
And just to be clear (because some people always seem to have trouble with this) ...
Just because I'm pointing out the challenges with coming up with legislation to hold the WTS accountable for their behavior doesn't mean that I think they do nothing wrong or don't ever treat people unfairly. They obviously contribute to a great deal of emotional stress and family breakup as I know from personal experience.
But that isn't going to be enough to overturn established legal principles and freedoms.
We can't force people to make cakes for us and no one can force us to buy them.
Unless someone has any suggestions for reconciling the competing sets of rights?
What I'm saying is this is the unintended consequence of being in a closed group like the JWs and having dealings only with them
Yes, but it cuts both ways - presumably up until the fallout, people benefit from the extra business that comes from the church-relationships. JWs aren't the only ones to have this common mix of social + business circles. You'd often hear things like "it's owned by a brother so we should support it".
That's certainly true. JWs with businesses certainly benefited from recommendations by JWs to other JWs. Same is true with other groups.
But, when a Witness with a business wants out of the religion he will have a problem.
Ugh, any dub with a business will often quickly find out that brothers and sisters are the worst customers ever. I tried to stay away myself.
I'm glad to see this case go up the ladder. I think the guy will lose, but it exposes the policies of the JWs and ties up resources, so I'm happy regardless of the verdict.