CESNUR - Centro Studi sulle Nuove Religioni diretto da Massimo Introvigne

CESNUR 2005 International Conference
June 2-5, 2005 – Palermo, Sicily
Religious Movements, Globalization and Conflict: Transnational Perspectives

Jehovah's Witnesses and the Anti-cult Movement: A Human Rights Perspective

John B. BROWN, II (Social educator, Tucson, Arizona)

A paper presented at the 2005 CESNUR Conference in Palermo, Sicily. Preliminary version – do not reproduce or quote without the consent of the author.

On September 23, 1995 a jury found the Cult Awareness Network  10% liable for a failed involuntary deprogramming, and Rick Ross 70% liable for attempting the deprogramming. Ross seized and detained Jason Scott for the purpose of forcing Scott to recant his faith-based beliefs. Religious freedom advocates believe deprogramming violates what many believe to be the most sacred principle of the human rights: freedom of religion and belief.

Jehovah’s Witnesses are not immune to this anticult fervor. Deprogrammers like Wally Shiel and Randall Watters who specialize in Jehovah’s Witnesses solicited deprogramming services at one time.  Despite this faith community’s being labeled a destructive cult very few members of the anticult movement will acknowledge the contribution this faith community has made to religious freedom in the United States. The aim of this research paper is to emphasize the contribution Jehovah’s Witnesses have made to religious freedom, and how select members of the anticult movement have violated the religious freedom of Jehovah’s Witnesses and other faith communities.


The Jehovah’s Witnesses religion is a sectarian (not cultic) Protestant community whose existence started with affiliates of other faith communities in the Baptist, Methodist, Congregational, and Presbyterian traditions.[i] The Jehovah’s Witnesses are an Adventist schism started by Charles Taze Russell.[ii] Russell started publishing the periodical Watchtower and Herald of Christ’s Presence in 1879, and incorporated of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania in 1884.[iii] This Jehovah’s Witnesses has been hailed as champions of religious freedom and human rights while they are also railed as a destructive cult by the anticult movement.

Jehovah’s Witnesses and Religious Freedom

USA Today hails Jehovah’s Witnesses for the “rich contribution they have made to the First Amendment freedoms we all enjoy.”[iv] In the United States Jehovah’s Witnesses have contributed more to religious freedom in than any other faith community. In the 1940s ten of the thirteen cases about religious freedom that went to the US Supreme Court involved Jehovah’s Witnesses. The faith community initially won six of the ten cases. Two of the remaining four the Jehovah’s Witnesses did not win were later reversed in their favor

Court Cases

     Cantwell v. Connecticut[v]

Cantwell v. Connecticut involved a Jehovah’s Witness who did not want to comply with a statute requiring any one who wanted to distribute materials or solicit funds to apply for a license. Cantwell was charged with violating this statute and the common law offence of inciting a breach of peace. The US Supreme Court found this statute burdensome to the free exercise of religion and found that the common law offense violated the Fourteenth Amendment of the US Constitution. This was a pivotal case for religious liberty. This was the first time the “free exercise clause” was incorporated into the First Amendment of the US Constitution.

Minersville School District v. Gobitis and West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette.[vi]

These two cases involved students who refused to salute the flag. Students and teachers were required to salute the flag at the beginning of the school. The students who did not comply were expelled. Jehovah’s Witnesses did not salute any national flag or emblem and still hold this position. In Minersville School District v. Gobitis the US Supreme court felt there was a compelling interest to create a national unity so the Court decided in favor of the Minersville School District. A few years later the US Supreme Court reversed its former opinion in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette when the Court decided in favor of Barnette mentioning the Minersville School District case in its opinion.  

Cox v. New Hampshire[vii]

Cox v. New Hampshire involved the conviction of 68 Jehovah’s Witnesses for violation of a New Hampshire statute prohibiting parades without a license while engaging in an information march. The participants displayed signs that said “'Religion is a Snare and a Racket,' 'Serve God and Christ the King,' and 'Fascism or Freedom. Hear Judge Rutherford and Face the Facts.' The United State Supreme Court upheld the conviction of the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Jones v. Opelika I[viii], Jones v. Opelika II[ix], Murdock v. Pennsylvania[x] and Douglas v. City of Jeannette[xi]

These cases involved Jehovah’s Witnesses being charged and found guilty for selling literature without a license, by operating as a “book agent” without a license, and operating as a “book dealer without a license. The US Supreme Court upheld the conviction in of Jones. Almost one year later a per curium case reversed Jones v. Opelika.

Murdock v. Pennsylvania was another case that went to court at the same time as Jones v. Opelika, but before these cases were decided a Jehovah’s Witnesses file for an injunction to prevent the prosecution of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Jeanette until Jones v. Opelika was decided. The U.S. Supreme Court removed the injunction

Foilett v. McCormick[xii]

Foilett v. McCormick challenged laws about whether faith communities were subject to licensing fees and taxes for someone employed as a full-time minister. Foilett was a Jehovah’s Witness that made his living as a full-time minister. Foilett was convicted of violating ordinances on licensing and taxes. The U.S. Supreme Court found such ordinances unconstitutional.

Prince v. Massachusetts[xiii]

This case had to do with a child labor statute in Massachusetts. Sarah Prince, a Jehovah’s Witness, took her children out to offer literature. Prince was charged and convicted of violating Massachusetts child labor. The U.S Supreme Court upheld the Massachusetts court’s decision.

The Anticult Movement and Religious Freedom

Deprogrammers and anticults organizations

American Civil Liberties Union Report on  Deprogramming[xiv]

In the late 1970s the American Civil Liberties Union issued a public statement and report on deprogramming. The report asserts that deprogramming is a civil liberty issue. Most of the first half of the report has information about Ted Patrick, the father of deprogramming, who has evoked justification laws and conservatorships in order to legalize deprogrammings. He was very successful at getting acquitted by the courts.

Cult Awareness Network and Rick Ross

On September 23 1995 a jury found the Cult Awareness Network (CAN), Rick Ross, Mark Workman, and Charles Simpson negligent and that the negligence caused injury to Jason Scott.[xv] The defendants were also found liable of Conspiracy to Violate the Civil Rights of Scott. The Jury found Ross 70% liable, and CAN 10% liable.[xvi] Ross was acquitted in his criminal trial.[xvii] Interestingly enough Ross still claims the trial was a scheme against CAN.[xviii] Ross stated that Scott felt Scientology ‘used’ him.” 

Ross also claimed that he was “interviewed and consulted by the FBI” during the Branch Davidian Standoff.[xix] The Report to the Attorney General on the Standoff states otherwise. That report states that, “The FBI did not ‘rely’ on Ross for advice whatsoever during the standoff. The FBI interviewed Ross only at Ross' request, and politely declined his unsolicited offers of assistance throughout the standoff. The FBI treated the information Ross supplied as it would any other unsolicited information received from the public: it evaluated the credibility of the information and treated it accordingly.”[xx] Rick Ross is currently the executive director of the Rick A. Ross Institute in New Jersey.[xxi]

Steve Hassan

Steve Hassan is a mental health counselor and an exit counselor. Hassan runs his for profit business, the Freedom of Mind Resource Center in Massachusetts. Hassan admits to performing deprogrammings between the years 1976-1977.[xxii] Since 1980 he states that he has spoken out against deprogramming, and has made a career for himself as a mental health counselor. In 2004 he appeared at the 24th Annual Conference of the Anxiety Disorders Association of America, Jews for Judaism Summit, 5th International Conference On Complex Systems, AFF Conference — Understanding Cults and Other Charismatic Groups, and was featured in the PBS series Discovering Psychology.[xxiii]

There have been allegations that Hassan kidnapped, hit and forcibly detained others. Hassan responds, “Never did I ever abduct, restrain, hit or threaten anybody. I did not and do not like the deprogramming method and stopped doing them in 1977!”[xxiv] Court testimony and depositions tell a different story.[xxv] Hassan also has accused a person he deprogrammed of being violent during a deprogramming as stated in an affidavit by the person’s mother.[xxvi]

Hasson has a database of “groups” on his site for researchers.[xxvii] The sites research on Jehovah’s Witnesses consists of basic information about the faith community, the faith community’s mind control elements, and web sites critical of the faith community. There are no links on this site that list current, scholarly research. Hassan’s site links to human rights organizations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on his site.[xxviii]

Counter Cult Ministries

Besides the anticult movement there is the religious counter cult movement. The forerunners of the counter cult movement are the Christian Research Institute, the Watchman Fellowship, Personal Freedom Outreach, and the “Mormon”[xxix] specific Concerned Christians. These counter cult ministries are usually operated by the Evangelical Christian community, and expose what they believe to be Christian heresy. These heresies are called “cults.”[xxx] Counter cult ministries focus on theological beliefs and errors, and provide information about these theological differences.

Anticult Organizations Specializing in Jehovah’s Witnesses

Cynthia Hampton

Cynthia Hampton is a former Jehovah’s Witness who started a support group to help out those who feel they have issues with the Jehovah’s Witnesses. She has an unincorporated support group. There is no known litigation against her but there is some documentation about how she feels about other faith communities.  She has a certain evangelical Christian view of Jehovah’s Witnesses and other faith communities she thinks are cults. Hampton is affiliated with Freeminds, an incorporated nonprofit organization that keeps watch of Jehovah’s Witnesses activities.[xxxi] Freeminds appears to be the forerunner of Jehovah’s Witnesses “watchdog” organizations. There are many articles on this site that promote its worldview of Jehovah’s Witnesses, but very little scholarly information about Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Hope Group of Tucson

Not much is known about the Hope Group of Tucson. This community is an unincorporated support group for Jehovah’s Witnesses. Tucson deprogrammer Wally Shiel’s is affiliated with the Hope Group. Shiel was affiliated with CAN and ReROCUS.[xxxii] Shiel and Hope Group founder Kindra Peterson are both controversial because of statements they have made about minority faith communities. A case search did not reveal anything significant other than a law suit she initiated against a Jehovah’s Witness that was dismissed.[xxxiii]

Ray Franz

Ray Franz is probably the most notable figure of the Jehovah’s Witness anticult movement. Franz was a member of the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses.[xxxiv] The Governing Body is the ruling body of the Jehovah’s Witnesses[xxxv] Franz began to have a difference of opinion with official Jehovah’s Witness Doctrine. Franz was asked to leave the Governing Body and was soon officially expelled from the Jehovah’s Witnesses.[xxxvi]

Private Message Boards for Former Jehovah’s Witnesses

Nothing has been more controversial then the postings from private message boards for former Jehovah’s Witnesses. The most popular message boards are Jehovah’s Witness Discussion Board (JWD) started by Simon Green, and Jehovah’s Witnesses Online (JWO) Dan Ferro. Even within the anticult community JWD and JWO are said to be famous for “flaming” and even “cyber stalking.” JWD founder Simon Green is on the defense because of accusations.[xxxvii] There are reports that Green misrepresented statistics about the number of visitors to his site. This issue will be further researched. There has been one court case against a member of JWD and there are reports of cases pending against members of JWO.”

Human Rights Issues and Religious Freedom

The issues created by anticult fervor can be recapitulated in the following points. The US Constitution and international human rights documents guarantee a person’s right to join any faith community of choice. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights[xxxviii] was accepted in 1948. Articles 18 and 19 of the 1948 Declaration affirm that freedom of religion is a human right, and that freedom to hold beliefs and opinions without interference is also a human right. In 1966 two binding human rights treaties were drafted and submitted for signing by U.N. members. The 1948 Declaration and the two 1966 treaties are commonly called the International Bill of Human Rights.[xxxix] One of these treaties, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights[xl] is a very important for religious freedom. Article 18 and 19 affirm verbatim what the 1948 Declaration states.

The 1966 Civil Rights Covenant also authorizes the formation of the Human Rights Committee. That Committee issued General Comment 22[xli] in 1993. General Comment 22 affirms that people have the right to profess or not profess a religion, to choose a religion or choose no religion at all and the right to choose theistic, non-theistic, or atheistic traditions.

General Comment 22 continues by stating that article 18 “bars coercion that would impair the right to have or adopt a religion or belief, including the use of threat of physical force or penal sanctions to compel believers or non-believers to adhere to their religious beliefs and congregations, to recant their religion or belief or to convert.” The concern that human rights advocates have is concerning deprogramming, exit counseling, cult interventions, and other similar therapies. These therapies aim at getting the “cultist” to recant his or her beliefs through confrontational and deceptive means.

In 1981 the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief was created.[xlii] The 1981 Declaration defines discrimination as “any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on religion or belief” that attempts to abolish the rights freedoms and enjoyments of religious freedom.

Some state that “one person's cult is another's valid religion.”[xliii] Human rights documents state that everyone has the right to freedom of religious belief. The United States Supreme Court is of the same opinion as stated in Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye v. Hialeah[xliv]. Referring this faith community’s practice of animal sacrifice the Court said, “Although the practice of animal sacrifice may seem abhorrent to some, 'religious beliefs need not be acceptable, logical, consistent, or comprehensible to others in order to merit First Amendment protection.”


In this article the following points have been made:

  1. The anticult movement’s position on Jehovah’s Witnesses and other faith community’s is considered discriminatory by human rights advocates.
  2. Most of the anticult and counter cult organizations have failed to provide credible research.
  3. Most anticult organizations have not mentioned the contribution Jehovah’s Witnesses have made to religious freedom in their research.

These research issues will be explored further in future research papers

Footnotes and References

[i] Ontario Consultants on Religious Freedom, Ed. Bruce A Robinson (1996) <http://www. religioustolerance.org/witness2.htm>

[ii] Religious Movements Page, Ed. Julia Neubauer (1998) <http://religiousmovements.lib.virginia.edu/nrms/ witness.html>

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] Tony Mauro, “Thank Jehovah's Witnesses for Speech Freedoms, ” USA Today 30 May 2000


[v] Cantwell v. Connecticut, 310 U.S. 296, US Supreme Court, 1940.

[vi] Minersville School District v. Gobitis, 310 U.S. 586, US Supreme Court, 1940 & Minersville School District v. Gobitis, 319 U.S. 624, US Supreme Court, 1943. 

[vii] Cox v. New Hampshire, 312 U.S. 569, US Supreme Court, 1941

[viii] Jones v. Opelika, 316 U.S. 584, US Supreme Court, 1942

[ix] Jones v. Opelika, Per Curium, 319 U.S. 103, US Supreme Court, 1943

[x] Filed with Jones v. Opelika

[xi] Douglass v. Jeanette, 319 U.S. 157, US Supreme Court, 1943

[xii] Floilett v. McCoemick, 321 U.S. 573, US Supreme Court, 1943

[xiii] Prince v. Massachusetts, 321 U.S. 158, US Supreme Court, 1944

[xiv] Anne Prichard, ACLU Report: Deprogramming and the Law, (New York: American Civil Liberties  Union, 1978)

[xv] Alan Shupe and Suson E. Darnell, “CAN, We Hardly Know Ye: Sex, Drugs, Deprogrammers, Kickbacks and Corporate Crime in the (old) Cult Awareness Network,” Society for the Scientific Study or Religion  Meeting (2000).

[xvi]  Scott v. Ross, Workman, Simpson, and Cult Awareness Network, C94-0079C, United States District Court Western District Court at Seattle.

[xvii] Kim Sue Lia Perkes, “Cult Deprogrammer Acquitted”,   Arizona Republic 21 January 1994.

[xviii]Rick Ross Responds to His Critics, Rick Ross (2000) <http://www.rickross.com/reference/ scientology/Scien47.html.

[xix] Rick Ross Responds to His Critics, Rick Ross (2000) <http://www.rickross.com/reference/ scientology/Scien47.html#waco>.

[xx] United States Department of Justice, Report on the Event at Waco, Texas (Washington D.C.: United States Department of Justice, 1993).

[xxi] About the Rick A. Ross Institute, Rick Ross (2003) <http://www.rickross.com/aboutus.html.>

[xxii] Refuting the Disinformation Attack Put Forth, Steven Hassan (n.d.) http://www.freedomofmind.com/ stevehassan/refuting/.

[xxiii] Upcoming Events/Workshops/Seminars, Steve Hassan (n.d.) http://www.freedomofmind.com/ stevehassan/events.

[xxiv]  Refuting the Disinformation Attack Put Forth Put Forth by Destructive Cults and their Agents, Steve Hassan  (n.d.) <http://www.freedomofmind.com/ stevehassan/refuting.

[xxv] “Declaration of Arthur Roselle”, Scott v. Ross, Workman, Simpson, and Cult Awareness Network, C94-0079C, United States District Court Western District Court at Seattle and Affidavit of Claire Kelley. (County of Suffolk: September 20, 1977).

[xxvi] “Joanne Roselle Affidavit” Refuting the Disinformation Attacks Put Forth by Destructive Cults and their Agents, Steve Hassan (n.d) <http://www.freedomofmind.com/stevehassan/refuting/roselle.pdf>

[xxvii] Resources for Researchers Freedom of Mind Resource Center http://www.freedomofmind. com/resourcecenter/groups.

[xxviii] “Universal Declaration oh Human Rights” Articles and Links Steve Hassan (2004) <http:// freedomofmind.com/resourcecenter/articles/universal.htm>.

[xxix] Also known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

[xxx] These counter cult ministry’s web sites are located at http//www.watchman.org, http://www.equip.org/, http://www.pfo.org, http://www.pfo.org, and http://www.caftucson.com/. Reveal Ministries does not have a known web site, but the can be contacted at PO Box 52 Walnut Grove, CA 95690 (916) 776-4705.

[xxxi] www.freeminds.org.

[xxxii] ReFocus, “A History of Focus and Refocus,” ReFocus: Recovering Former Cultists’ Support Network <http://www.refocus.org/history.html>

[xxxiii] Peterson v. Friedenbury, CV02-024699A, Tucson Municipal Court, 2003

[xxxiv] Ray Franz, Crises of Conscience, 3rd Ed. (Atlanta: Commentary Press, 1999) 42.

[xxxv] “Organization, Beliefs and Practices,” Jehovah’s Witnesses Group Profile (13 October 2001) < http:// religiousmovements.lib.virginia.edu/nrms/Jwitness.html.

[xxxvi] Ray Franz, Crises of Conscience, 3rd Ed. (Atlanta: Commentary Press, 1999) 321-366.

[xxxvii] Simon, 17 February 2005, “How is JWD Doing?” Posted at http://www.jehovahs-witness.com/22/85447/1.ashx

[xxxviii] Universal Declaration of Human Rights, G.A. res. 217A (III), U.N. Doc A/810 at 71, 1948

[xxxix] International Bill of Human Rights comprise the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Social, Economic, and Cultural Rights

[xl] International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, G.A. res. 2200A (XXI), 21 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No. 16) at 52, U.N. Doc. A/6316, 1966

[xli] Human Rights Committee, General Comment 22, Article 18, Forty-eighth session, 1993, reprinted in Compilation of General Comments and General Recommendations Adopted by Human Rights Treaty Bodies, U.N. Doc. HRI/GEN/1/Rev.6 at 155 (2003)

[xlii] Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief, G.A. res. 36/55, 36, U.N. Doc. A/36/684, 1981.

[xliii] Dena S. Davis, Joining a "Cult": Religious Choice or Psychological Aberration? , Cleveland State University Journal of Law and Health, 11 J.L. & Health 145

[xliv] Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye v. Hialeah, 508 US 520, US Supreme Court, 1993