CESNUR - Centro Studi sulle Nuove Religioni diretto da Massimo Introvigne

CESNUR 2006 International Conference
July 13-16, 2006
San Diego State University, San Diego, California
Religion, Globalization, and Conflict: International Perspectives

Jehovah's Witnesses and the Anticult Movement: Human Rights Issues

by John B. BROWN (Pagan Unity Campaign, Tucson, Arizona)

A paper presented at the CESNUR 2006 International Conference. Please do not reproduce or quote without the consent of the author


 Members of Jehovah’s Witnesses have fought fervently for the freedom to practice their religion. This report analyzes allegations of human rights abuses committed by the Jehovah’s Witness religion before the UN, The European Court of Human Rights, and abuses of international human rights conventions. Jehovah’s Witnesses have contributed more than any other religion to human rights and freedom of religion with over 50 cases in the United States documented. Cases before that European Court of Human Rights and the United Nations Human Rights Committee demonstrate this faith community’s commitment to human rights. The legal cases documented demonstrate that allegations of human rights abuses by the Jehovah’s Witnesses religion are not as prevalent as is claimed by the anticult movement while the anticult movement has continued to infringe on the human rights of Jehovah’s Witnesses and other faith communities. This article concludes by demonstrating how such issues transacted within a human rights framework. This article includes correspondence with Steve Hassan and Randall Watters, and an extensive list of Jehovah’s Witness jurisprudence


Members of Jehovah’s Witnesses have fought fervently for the freedom to practice their religion. Recently Jehovah’s Witnesses have been accused of human rights abuses. Anticult activists such as Norman Hovland allege that the Jehovah’s Witnesses leaders are or will be responsible for torture, genocide and other forms of degrading treatment.[i] These claims of human rights abuses are not credible.  This article will examine why many of these allegations that are not credible.

The Human Rights of Excommunication

Some Anti-cult activists riddle the Jehovah’s Witness religion with accusations of Human Rights abuses.[ii] Amongst these alleged abuses is the practice of disfellowshipping. Disfellowshipping is Jehovah's Witnesses description of excommunication, and is practiced as a form of discipline pronounced by a special tribunal called a judicial committee[iii].  Disfellowshipping removes all privileges that a Jehovah’s Witness had as a member, and includes social boycotting.

Disfellowshipping alone is not a human rights abuse. The sentence of disfellowshipping is not a human rights abuse unless human rights principles or laws, as defined by international human rights declarations and treaties, are breached.

Social boycotting as a part of disfellowshipping is not alone a human rights abuse. Social boycotts have been an effective form of nonviolent resistance.[iv], [v] Some anticult activists[vi] have interpreted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) to mean that disfellowshipping is a human rights violation. Disfellowshipping is not “torture cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and punishment" as some anticult activist have claimed. The Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT)[vii] defines what is meant by “torture cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and punishment.” CAT defines torture and similar treatment as “any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.”

When a judicial committee is initiated to investigate a member’s sin, there is no arrest or detaining, no one is brought before a tribunal to answer for their crimes. The member is invited to the judicial committee[viii]. The member can leave anytime he or she wants to.

  It has also been claimed that judicial committees also violate article 10 of the UDHR, which states “Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him.” The Human Rights Committee’s General Comment 13 clarifies the meaning of these other documents about courts and tribunal as being those established by the government.[ix]

When making allegations of human rights violations another document needs to be considered: The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). UDHR, ICCPR and one other international human rights document comprise what is called the International Bill of Human Rights.[x] Besides outlining what inherent rights a person possesses, the ICCPR also commissions the Human Rights Committee. In 1993 the Human Rights Committee issued General Comment 22.[xi] General Comment 22 outlines what human rights principles apply to faith communities

According to General Comment 22, Coercion to get a member to confess, convert or recant a religious affiliation or sin are not compatible with human rights. Policies that restrict access to education, medical care, employment, and the rights contained in the ICCPR are not compatible with human rights. Taking human rights assessment of faith communities in light with the UDHR, ICCPR, and other human rights conventions and declarations will help determine their “human rights temperature.”[1]


The Case of Jehovah’s Witnesses v. Bulgaria: Correspondence with Lee Elder For the past several years, “Lee Elder”[2] has been organizing protests of the blood transfusion doctrine. He founded the Associated Jehovah’s Witnesses for the Reform on Blood (AJWRB). The AJWRB web site states the AJWRB “[xii]is a diverse group of Witnesses from many countries. Some members are presently serving as elders and Hospital Liaison Committee[3] members or have previously served in that capacity. Additionally, other members are from the medical field or have friends or relatives who are Witnesses. All have volunteered their time and energies in an effort to bring about an end to a tragic and misguided policy that has claimed thousands of lives, many of them children.”

The Government of Bulgaria denied the Jehovah’s Witness organization legal status in Bulgaria. The Jehovah’s Witnesses in Bulgaria took their case to the European Commission on Human Rights in 1996[xiii]. The author recently had a series of correspondences with Lee Elder about the issue that erupted in Bulgaria. These correspondences occurred between 21 November & 26 December 2005. Lee Elder alleges that the Jehovah’s Witness leaders in Bulgaria perjured themselves before the Commission[xiv]

Brown Correspondance to Elder
            Hi Lee,
Are [you] sure this issue with Bulgaria before the UCHR is perjury? I have read 
legal documents pertaining to it, and I do not see an indication of perjury. 
Have you let an attorney review that information?
I am not saying that the JWs do not have human rights issues; they indeed do 
have some, but I am not sure I want to publish inaccuracies, or things that 
have not been adequately researched by other experts.
I have contacted the Registrar of the ECHR to ask for advice on this issue.----


Elder Response  to Brown 
The issue of perjury is our opinion - not a matter of fact. When the WT 
states that there are no sanctions it was as a matter of policy disfellowshipping JWs who questioned the blood issue much less took forbidden types of blood transfusions. Even now, to argue that there are no sanctions for a JW who accepts a blood transfusion is non-sensical.
Best regards,
Lee Elder[xv]
 The facts according to the European Commission on Human Rights are “the case concerned the refusal to re-register the applicant association pursuant to a 1994 law, and the alleged suppression of its activities and those of its members. In a settlement, the Government agreed to introduce legislation as soon as possible to provide for civilian service for conscientious objectors, as an alternative to military service, and to register the applicant association as a religion. The Jehovah’s Witness leaders in Bulgaria aggreed to draft a statement for inclusion in its statute providing that members should have free choice in the matter for themselves and their children, without any control or sanction on the part of the association.”[xvi] According to the report to the commission, both parties agreed to a “friendly settlement.” [xvii] The case transcripts state that the Bulgarian government considered blood transfusions a threat to public order. The Jehovah’s Witness organization in Bulgaria affirmed, “There are no religious sanctions for the individual concerned.” [xviii] This affirmation appeared contradictory because a Jehovah’s Witness press release informed that the decision did not “reflect a change in the doctrine of Jehovah’s Witnesses.[xix] Jehovah’s Witness policy had been to expel and social boycott a member that willing receives a blood transfusion and does not ‘repent’ for the act.[xx] According to Jehovah’s Witnesses Public Affairs, the “amicable agreement” includes an acknowledgement that the individual member has a right to choose his or her own medical treatment.[xxi] There are now no official sanctions because of the amicable agreement. 
 Although there is no official action taken against a member, according to Lee Elder the current policy is to consider the member not a Jehovah’s Witness if a blood transfusion is received,[xxii] but there is not judicial action pursued by a judicial committee.


Correspondences with Randall Watters & Steve Hassan

            Listed below are correspondences with Randall Watters and Steve Hassan. The correspondence with Watters was a clarification about his involvement in deprogrammings. The correspondence with Hassan was a concern that he may be still promoting involuntary deprogrammings.


Watters’ Clarification  to Brown

I have worked with Steve on interventions, but no longer do them for various reasons, among them ethical. You call them deprogramming, I do not. Alcoholics Anonymous does interventions; too, they do not do deprogramming.” [xxiii]

Brown’s Letter to Hassan

Dear Mr. Hassan:

I am very concerned about a comment that remains in your book Combating Cult Mind Control, page 114. The comment is “Forcible intervention can be kept as a last resort if all other attempts fail.” I do know that a recent book you published contains material about the trauma associated with forcible intervention, but the fact the older Combating contains this comment I believe that you still believe in forcible interventions as a last resort. Why else would it still be in Combating? Why has Combating not been updated to reflect the information the more recent Releasing the Bonds? Charities and other facilities, such as International Cultic Studies Association, and Wellspring Retreat and Resource Center are selling Combating. In addition, Combating has been published in Japanese, a country with rampant issues with forcible interventions until outlawed recently according to US Department of the State Religious Freedom Report. Since you claim to be a human rights activist on your web site I implore you to update the book Combating, removing the comment about forcible interventions being a viable strategy. I also implore you to speak out against forcible interventions. Although you claim to have spoken out against them on your web site, you remain silent about the issues in Japan and the rest of Europe. Those issues are clearly violations of human rights.

I thank you for your time


Rev. John B. Brown, II

Arizona State Chair

Regional Director, Mountain Region

Pagan Unity Campaign [xxiv]

As of May 2006 Hassan has not responded to this letter            


Future Research Topics

            This research paper and a previous one by the same author[4] have pointed out several human rights issues by several popular anticult activists and organizations. Future research papers will continue to focus on several issues involving Jehovah’s Witnesses. Planned future research topics include:

  1. Jehovah’s Witness tribunals (i.e. judicial committees),
  2. The excommunicating of minors (possible human rights issue),
  3. Exhaustive history of jurisprudence outlining the contribution the faith community has made to human rights
  4. A study of the historical development of Jehovah’s Witness doctrine.

Appendix 1

Jehovah’s Witness Jurisprudence

United States Supreme Court Cases

Coleman v. City of Griffin (1937)

Lovell v. City of Griffin (1938)

Schneider v. The State [New Jersey] (1939)

Cantwell v. State of Connecticut (1940)

Minersville v. Gobitis (1940)

Cox v. New Hampshire (1941)

Jones v. City of Opelika (1942)

Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire (1942)

Busey v. District of Columbia (1943)

Douglas v. City of Jeannette (1943)

Jamison v. State of Texas (1943)

Jones v. City of Opelika (1943)

Largent v. State of Texas (1943)

Martin v. City of Struthers (1943)

Murdock v. Pennsylvania (1943)

Taylor v. State of Mississippi (1943)

West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette (1943)

Follett v. Town of McCormick (1944)

Falbo v. United States (1944)

Prince v. Massachusetts (1944)

Estep v. United States (1946)

Gibson v. United States (1946)

Tucker v. Texas (1946)

Marsh v. Alabama (1946)

Cox v. United States (1947)

Saia v. People of the State of New York (1948)

Niemotko v. Maryland (1951)

Poulos v. New Hampshire (1953)

Dickinson v. United States (1953)

Fowler v. Rhode Island (1953)

United States v. Nugent (1953)

Gonzales v. United States (1955)

Sicurella v. United States (1955)

Simmons v. United States (1955)

Witmer v. United States (1955)

Gonzales v. United States (1960)

Jehovah's Witnesses v. King County Hospital (1968)

Hart v. United States (1968)

Holmes v. United States (1968)

Pryor v. United States (1971)

Wooley v. Maynard (1977)

Thomas v. Review Bd., Ind. Empl. Sec. Div. (1981)

Watchtower Bible & Tract Society v. Village of Stratton (2002)

State Appellate and Federal Cases           

Watchtower Bible & Tract Society v. Haring (1955)
Clark v. Review Bd. of Dept. of Employment and Training Services (1983)

Paul v. Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc. (1987)

Rasmussen v. Bennett (1987)

Kentucky Com'n on Human Rights v. Lesco Mfg. & Design Co., Inc. (1987)

Dobrican vs. Immigration and Naturalization Service (1996)

State Cases

Nicholls v. Lynn (Mass. 1937); Leoles v Landers (Ga. 1937)

Hering v. Board of Education (N.J. 1937)

 Gabrielli v. Knickerbocker (Cal. 1938);

People ex tel. Fish v. Sandstrom  (N.Y. 1939) 

State ex tel. Bleich v. Board of Public Instruction  (Fla. 1939)

United States v. Catlette (1942)

Watchtower Bible & Tract Society v. Haring (New York - 1955)
Johnson v. Johnson (Alaska - 1977)
Waites v. Waites (Missouri - 1978)

Osier v. Osier (Maine - 1980)

Felton v. Felton (Massachusetts - 1981)
 In re Marriage of Short (Colorado - 1985)

Shorter v. Drury (Washington - 1985)

In re Brown (Mississippi - 1985)

In re E.G. (Illinois - 1989)

S.E.L. v. J.W.W. (New York - 1989)
Fosmire v. Nicoleau (New York - 1989)

Public Health Trust of Dade County v. Wons (Florida - 1989)

Haig v. Everett (Arkansas - 1989)

Vauls v. Lambros (Maryland - 1989)

 Fosmire v. Nicoleau (New York - 1990)
Norwood Hosp. v. Munoz (Massachusetts - 1991)

Pater v. Pater (Ohio - 1992)

Matter of Dubreuil (Florida - 1993)

Alaniz v. Alaniz (Texas - 1993)

De Luca v. De Luca (New York - 1994)

St. Mary's Hosp. v. Ramsey (Florida - 1995)

Garrett v. Garrett (Nebraska - 1995)

Latshaw v. Davis (Florida - 1997)
Mesa v. Mesa (Florida - 1995)

Williams v. Bright (New York Supreme Court- 1995)

Palmer v. Palmer (Nebraska - 1996)

In re Brown (Illinois - 1997)
 In re Rena (Massachusetts - 1999)

Bryan R. v. Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc., et al. (Maine Supreme Court - 1999)

Abrams v. Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York  (Illinois - 1999)

Decorso v. Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York (Connecticut – 2003)

Gillet v. Watchtower Bible and Tract Society (2004)

Berry v Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York ( New Hampshire - 2004)

United States Government Hearings.

Record Group 228, Committee on Fair Employment Practice, Hearing Records

Misc. Case.

People v. Martin (1998)

European Court of Human Rights

Hoffmann v. Austria (1993)

Kokkinakis v. Greece (1993)

Efstratiou v. Greece  (1996)

Manoussakis and Others v. Greece (1996

Valsamis v. Greece (1996)

Georgiadis v. Greece (1997)

Khristiansko Sdruzhenie "Svideteli na Iehova"   (Christian Association Jehovah's Witnesses) v.  Bulgaria (1998)

Pentidis and Others v. Greece (1997)

Tsirlis and Kouloumpas v. Greece (1997)

Tsavachidis v. Greece (1999)

Thlimmenos v. Greece (2001)

United Nations Human Rights Committee

Communication No. 295/1988: Finland. (1990)

Communication No. 397/1990: Denmark. (1992)

Communication No 402/1990: Netherlands. (1993)

Appendix 2

Steve Hassan Press Release 



Freedom of Mind Resource Center Infringes with the Rights of Minority Faith Groups

Tucson, AZ – July 16, 2006 - Mental Health Counselor Steve Hassan announced on his Freedom of Mind Resource Center that he believes in human rights and freedom of religion but the facts demonstrate a different policy. Mr. Hassan's referencing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights does not mean he understands human rights principles. Other human rights documents and Mr. Hassan’s policies do not rights of minority faith communities.

Mr. Hassan's book "Releasing the Bonds” illustrates this typical anticult sentiment rather than human rights principles. Hassan's book talks about "three day interventions" and discussing a group’s beliefs and theological issues. While some portions of “Releasing the Bonds” discusses getting consent from the “cult member, he assert in other parts the asking of questions that are purely a matter of religious belief or theological doctrine in order to “sow seeds of doubt.” The latter are incompatible with human rights principles.

The Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities, Article two states: “Persons belonging to national or ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities (hereinafter referred to as persons belonging to minorities) have the right to enjoy their own culture, to profess and practise their own religion, and to use their own language, in private and in public, freely and without interference or any form of discrimination.” The commentary on this Declaration by the Working Group on Minorities affirms: “The words ‘freely and without interference or any form of discrimination’ at the end of article 2.1 show that it is not enough for the State to abstain from interference or discrimination. It must also ensure that individuals and organizations of the larger society do not interfere or discriminate.” Mr. Hassan is teaching people how to interfere with members of minority faith communities (i.e. cults)

Mr. Hassan states on his web site: “For the record, I believe in freedom of religion. I am an activist who fights to protect people's right to believe whatever they want to believe. I believe that everyone has the right to believe and the right not to believe whatever he/she chooses to believe. Even members of groups I consider to be a destructive cult. I did not and do not like the deprogramming method and stopped doing them in 1977! I have spoken out publicly against forcible deprogrammings since 1980.” What Mr. Hassan claimed on his site does not coincide with what he wrote in his book Combating Cult Mind Control. Page 114 of Combating Cult Mind Control espouses, “Forcible intervention can be kept as a last resort if all other attempts fail.”

In truth, Mr. Hassan cannot claim to believe in religious freedom for groups he “considers destructive cults”, and to have spoken “out publicly against forcible deprogrammings since 1980 if in 1988 he stated that forcible interventions are used as a last resort.

If Mr. Hassan truly wants to promote human rights, he should become up-to-date on human rights policy and law as defined in international human rights treaties and policy documents, and recant the statement in his book, Combating Cult Mind Control


[1] For more information about taking  a human rights assessment of a faith community, go to http://www.hrusa.org/hrmaterials/temperature/religious.shtm

[2] Lee Elder is a pseudonym for an anonymous activist who has protested the Jehovah’s Witness leadership’s policies surrounding the use of blood and blood transfusions

[3] The Hospital Liaison Committee is an arm of the Jehovah’s Witness religion that assists with the medical needs of members, and to make sure hospitals understand the organization’s stance on blood transfusions.

[4] See John B. Brown, “Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Anticult Movement: A Human Rights Perspective,” Religious Movement, Globalization, and Conflict: Transactional Perspectives, CESNUR 2005 International Conference, 04 June 2005`

[i] Norman Hovland, “The Watchtower Society and Human Rights,” Research on the Watchtower. Ed. Osarif, 2005, Osarif, 10 September 2005 < http://www.geocities.com/osarsif/index2.htm>.

[ii] Norman Hovland, < http://www.geocities.com/osarsif/index2.htm>.

[iii] Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, “Sharing on a Judicial Committee” Pay Attention to Yourselves and to All the Flock, Brooklyn: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc (1991) 107-116.

[iv] M. K. Gandhi, Nonviolent Resistance (Satyagraha), Bharatan Kumarappa, ed. and trans (Mineola: Dover Publications, 2001)  147-149.

[v] Genes Sharp, The Politics of Nonviolent Action (3 Vols.), (Boston: Porter Sargent, 1973).

[vi] Hovland < http://www.geocities.com/osarsif/index2.htm>.

[vii] Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, G.A. res. 39/46, [annex, 39 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No. 51) at 197, U.N. Doc. A/39/51 (1984)], entered into force June 26, 1987

[viii] Watchtower, Pay Attention  110

[ix] Human Rights Committee, General Comment 13, Article 14 (Twenty-first session, 1984), Compilation of General Comments and General Recommendations Adopted by Human Rights Treaty Bodies, U.N. Doc. HRI\GEN\1\Rev.1 at 14 (1994).

[x] University of Minnesota Human Rights Library, Oct. 2005, University of Minnesota Human Rights Center, 30 Oct. 2005 http://www1.umn.edu/humanrts>.

[xi] Human Rights Committee, General Comment 22, Article 18 (Forty-eighth session, 1993). Compilation of General Comments and General Recommendations Adopted by Human Rights Treaty Bodies, U.N. Doc. HRI\GEN\1\Rev.1 at 35, Retrieved  13 December 2005, available: <http://www1.umn.edu/humanrts/ gencomm/hrcom22.htm>.

[xii] Associated Jehovah’s Witnesses for the Reform on Blood, “Associated Jehovah’s Witnesses for the Reform on Blood,” New Light on Blood, 1996, 07 February 2006 < http://www.ajwrb.org/about.shtml>

[xiii] Khristiansko Sdruzhenie "Svideteli na Iehova (Christian Association Jehovah's Witnesses) against Bulgaria, Application No. 28626/95, European Commission of Human Rights, 1997

[xiv] Associated Jehovah’s Witnesses for the Reform on Blood, “Watchtower Commits Perjury? European Commission on Human Rights,” New Light on Blood, <http://www.ajwrb.org/basics/perjury.shtml>

[xv] Lee Elder, Email correspondence with AJWRB, 23 December 2005

[xvi] European Commission of Human Rights, Press release regarding  the 276 Session of the European Commission of Human Right, 13 March 1998

[xvii] Council of Europe, European Commission of Human Rights, Khristiansko Sdruzhenie "Svideteli na Iehova (Christian Association Jehovah's Witnesses) against Bulgaria Report to the Commission, (Strasbourg: European Commission of Human Rights, 1996) 7-8

[xviii] Khristiansko Sdruzhenie "Svideteli na Iehova” against Bulgaria, 22

[xix] Watchtower Bible and Tract Society Public Affairs Office, Press release, Bulgaria To Recognize Jehovah’s Witnesses as a Religion: European Commission of Human Rights Accepts Amicable Settlement, Brooklyn, 27 April 1998

[xx] Watchtower, Pay Attention  94

[xxi] Watchtower Public Affairs, Press release

[xxii] Lee Elder, Email correspondence with AJWRB, 24 December 2005

[xxiii] Randall Watters, Email Correspondence, 28 July 2005

[xxiv] Steve Hassan, Personal Letter sent via email,  07 February 2006