Religious freedom of Jehovah's Witnesses

The freedom of religion is a matter of granted in most western countries. But when a country is dominated by one strong religion, or one ideological dogma, such freedom is often restricted by the dominating religion or ideology. Recent development in Moscow, Russia, where the city prosecutors are trying to outlaw Jehovah's Witnesses (JWs), is deplorable. The controversial new law in Russia gives courts the power to outlaw any religious group convicted of inciting hatred or intolerance. The prosecutors accuse JWs for "instigating religious strife." Such religious intolerance by the government should be condemned in Russia as well as in any other countries.

Notwithstanding, the issue of religious intolerance against JWs is not so simple. Awake! magazine January 8, 1999 issue featured religious freedom. The articles try to portray unjustified discrimination against JWs in various parts of the world despite the fact that some news media called them as "model citizens." However, you would be totally missing the point if you envision the JWs as a victim of discrimination simply because of their difference from established religions. Unfortunately, the accusation by the Moscow prosecutors that JWs are "instigating religious strife" is unequivocally true. The heart of the matter is that the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society (WTBTS), controlling religious organization of JWs, indeed has been inciting, since its foundation, hatred and intolerance to other religious groups and particularly those who openly criticize the WTBTS, such as some of the former JWs. The official publications of WTBTS are full of hatred, bigotry and slander against so-called "Christendom" or existing Christian churches, and so-called "apostates" or dissenting former members.

For example, "Revelation Its Grand Climax At Hand!", a book diligently studied by many JWs until recently, has following paragraphs.

"... the clergy of Christendom have been the most prominent members of Satan's seed." (p30)

"All her hundreds of millions of church members, if they continue to support Christendom's religion, become like scorched blades of grass, spiritually wilted in God's eyes." (p134)

"No one looking at the fruits of the third of the world occupied by Christendom can deny that she is groping in gross spiritual darkness. She is most blameworthy, for she claims to be Christian. Hence, it is only proper that the fourth angel should trumpet the fact that Christendom's "light" is, in fact, darkness, and her sources of "light" are Babylonish-non-Christian." (p140)

"Christendom is truly the most reprehensible part of Satan's system of things." (p141)

"In other places, the Kingdom literature continues to expose Christendom's Babylonish doctrines and ways, bringing her deserved harm in a figurative way." (p154)

Regarding former JWs who conscientiously dissented the WTBTS teachings, the official magazine incites the strongest hatred as follows.

"True Christians share Jehovah's feelings toward such apostates; they are not curious about apostate ideas. On the contrary, they "feel a loathing" toward those who have made themselves God's enemies, but they leave it to Jehovah to execute vengeance." (The Watchtower 10-1-1993 p19)

Why does the WTBTS demands the outside world for religious tolerance, when they themselves instigate such blatant hatred and bigotry against other religions and people of different faiths? The WTBTS may say they are just stating the facts based on their belief. If such statements are not religious bigotry, statements such as "JWs are instigating hatred and intolerance" and "JWs are denying life-saving medical treatment" are also factual statements and not bigotry.

The above Awake! article, quoting the book Freedom of Religion and Belief, states: "Rejection, persecution and discrimination towards those who have taken a different path remain a major cause of intolerance." (Awake! 1-8-99 p4) What does the WTBTS teach towards those who have taken a different path from the organization? The WTBTS has taught JWs to shun those dissenting former members by labeling them as "apostates" and to "feel a loathing" toward them.

It is true that the Bill of Rights does not guarantee the rights of freedom against private institutions, such as WTBTS, which can legally manipulate their members and restrict their freedom. It is also true that at least some of the criticism of WTBTS against so-called "Christendom" may be valid. But does that justify what the WTBTS have done against those who do not agree with them? What about their ethical responsibility as a Christian? If WTBTS claims that they follow the Bible messages, why do they not follow this simple teaching of the Bible?

"All things, therefore, that you want men to do to you, you also must likewise do to them; this, in fact, is what the Law and the Prophets mean." (Matthew 7:12 - NWT)

If the WTBTS demands the world to show tolerance to their religion, the WTBTS should also show their tolerance to other religions of the world.

I condemn any attempt to restrict the religious freedom of Jehovah's Witnesses. But I have to make it clear that this statement by no means condones the stringent restriction of freedom of belief, thought, expression and choosing medical treatment imposed by the WTBTS on JWs. I advocate the freedom of religion because, if JWs are not given religious freedom, our own religious freedom could also be deprived. However, I will never condone the religious intolerance of WTBTS. The current discrimination against JWs in various countries does not come without reason. It is a fruit of the years of WTBTS's traditional hatred, bigotry and discrimination against established religions and dissenting former members. I demand the world for the true freedom of religion regardless of what people believe, but at the same time, I also demand any high-control religious groups, such as the WTBTS, to stop their practice to incite religious intolerance.

February 21, 1999