CESNUR - Centro Studi sulle Nuove Religioni diretto da Massimo Introvigne

londonThe 2008 International Conference
Twenty Years and More: Research into Minority Religions, New Religious Movements and 'the New Spirituality'

An International Conference organized by INFORM and CESNUR in association with ISORECEA at the London School of Economics, 16-20th April 2008

UDHR Article 30: Cult Watchdog Organizations and Jehovah’s Witnesses

by John Bowen Brown II

A paper presented at the 2008 International Conference, London, UK. Preliminary version. lease do not reproduce or quote without the consent of the author.


In 1980, discord[i] developed at the Jehovah’s Witnesses denominational headquarters as reported by then Governing Board member Raymond Franz[ii] and headquarters staff member Randal Watters.[iii]  As the conflict subsided Franz resigned from the Governing Board and was soon expelled from the Jehovah’s Witnesses.[iv] Watters renounced the religion because of the 1980 incident.[v] [1] Franz and Watters quickly supplied the catalyst to oppugn the Jehovah’s Witnesses.  The denominational leaders responded to these indictments by warning members against “apostate” teachings,[vi] and how to avoid literature critical[vii] of Jehovah’s Witnesses. 

This research paper will survey the beginning of the Jehovah’s Witness watchdog movement,[2] and explicate how these cult watchdog groups have started using human rights and freedom of thought as a means to continue hostilities against Jehovah’s Witnesses and other minority faith communities.

The Authors Background

John Bowen Brown II joined the Jehovah’s Witnesses age 14 (1984).  In 1995 he decided to leave for personal reasons.  After leaving, he joined the “Anticult Movement,” and was involved with the movement for six years.

During this time Brown met deprogrammer Wally Shiel.  Shiel had been affiliated with the old Cult Awareness Network and was a former board member with ReFOCUS.[viii]  Shiel was also studying to be a counselor.  Brown went through a voluntary deprogramming, and soon started offering deprogramming services.  Brown also started a support group for former Jehovah’s Witnesses.  Shiel was the facilitator. 

In 2003 Brown had an ideological divergence with most cult watchdog organization: he abandoned the Mind Control Model.  A scholarly literature search of the available research in 2003 produced nothing from Mind Control Model adherents.  Brown’s change of religion also escalated the conflict with his “anticult” colleagues.

Another issue Brown observed while in the anticult movement was Shiel’s possession of “kiddie porn” that was taken from the Children of God (AKA The Family[3]) faith community Shiel claimed the Children of God produced the video[ix] Shiel also tried a deprogramming intervention on Brown because he felt that Brown’s religious affiliation with Wicca was ‘cultish’ He confronted Brown at a restaurant.[4]  The confrontation did not involve kidnapping, but he was led the the resteraunt under false pretenses

Brown complained about Shiel.  Jehovah’s Witness critic Cynthia Hampton labeled Brown as dangerous for being Wiccan.  Brown also received threats.  Some of the threats were “burn the witch,” and “we will gut those fish quickly.”  Then people contacted Brown’s wife telling her she needed to keep an eye on him.

Brown’s experience with the Jehovah’s Witnesses and certain cult watchdog groups give him a unique perspective.  He can speak to his experiences and aid other in deciphering the lingo of Jehovah’s Witnesses and the assorted Jehovah’s Witness watchdog groups.

The Nucleus of Information: Free Minds

Watters started Free Minds, Inc in 1991[x].  Free Minds has been the nucleus for Jehovah’s Witness watchdog groups since it started.  Despite Watter’s indiscriminate inclusion of anything that censures the Jehovah’s Witnesses, he has provided a forum for former members to intermingle. 

Free Minds seems to have provided a social support system to fill the void left after leaving the Jehovah’s Witnesses. All Jehovah’s Witnesses are encouraged to affiliate only with other members.[xi]  Some members follow this precept, and some do not.[5]  Those who follow this precept and later renounce their affiliation know that friends and family in the religion may hassle[6] and avoid the former member.[7]  This results in negative experiences for some members because they lose their social support. 

Others Follow Watter’s Lead

With the advent of the Internet Watters started Free Minds.org. This made Watters mission easier.[8] The hundreds of web sites listed on Free Minds.org demonstrate that Free Minds is a nucleus for Jehovah’s Witness watchdog groups. Free Minds.org lists hundreds of web sites that focus on Jehovah’s Witnesses. 138 web sites are in English. Free Minds.org also lists 13 web sites that focus on general “cult” information or therapy, 32 Jehovah’s Witness focused interactive boards, hundreds Jehovah’s Witness related support and social groups.[9]  Since Free Minds started, others have also followed Watter’s methodology.

Norman Havlond[10]

Recent denigrations argue that Jehovah’s Witnesses have committed human rights violations against their members.[11]  Jehovah’s Witness critic Norman Havoland is leading this campaign, asserting that the “Watchtower Society couldn't care less about human rights, because they violate them all the time.”[xii] Research was previously presented addressing Havlond arguments.[xiii]  Havolond responded by stating,  “This is quite a spin on what I actually written about these matters. Either the guy is dishonest or dumb.  JW leaders are no doubt violating human rights as freedom of speech, freedom of religion etc. They are no doubt responsible for psychical torture with their DF[12] and shunning policy.”[xiv] 

Havlond’s essay is indicative of the lack of reliable research and education that inundates most Jehovah’s Witness watchdog groups. What Havlond does not realize is only governments can legally commit human rights violations. “[P] rivate actors cannot be held responsible for violating human rights norms.  Only public authorities can be held responsible for human rights interference and violations.”[xv] When a public authority (i.e. government) commits a human rights violation that means international human rights law is being violated. When a private organization commits the same things that would amount to an illegal act with in the framework of international human rights law, a human rights abuse has been committed.[xvi]  Human rights abuses by private groups are not usually subject to action by any international legal body.  It is the responsibility of the government to punish any violations of national law.  Most International human rights treaties are inapplicable to any private individual or group

Havlond argues that the Jehovah’s Witness religion and/or their beliefs have violated the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the Convention against Genocide.  What is remarkable about the Convention against Genocide[xvii] is that this international legal document also applies to private individuals and groups because this is specified in the document.  Havlond labels the eschatological acts of the “Watchtower God” as genocide. According to Jehovah’s Witnesses theology, all non-Jehovah’s Witnesses are going to be killed by God when the world ends.[xviii]  Havlond calls this event  genocide.  The problem with Havlond’s arguement is genocide actually has to be committed before human rights law is violated. A belief or theology that describes genocide is not the literal act of genocide.  Within an international law framework the Convention against Genocide is not violated because the Convention against Genocide does not include beliefs or theologies that might describe genocide.[13]

Havlond spends the rest of his essay on “violations” of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The difficulties posed by his arguments involving the Declaration are that this document is a non-binding declaration, not an international treaty with legal force. Neither nations nor private groups can violate it in a legal sense.

Havlond also alleged that the Jehovah’s Witnesses violate article 4 of the Declaration,[14] pertaining to slavery.  Ill-informed Havlond alleges, “What about all the people who are held in servitude in Brooklyn[15] [New York], who, have taken their families loved ones hostage, and keep people enslaved under the threat of Df’ing.”  To determine that the Jehovah’s Witness religion is not enslaving its members, no one needs to look any farther than the Slavery Convention of 1926[xix] ratified by the UN’s predecessor, the League of Nations, and amended by the UN in 1953.[xx]  The Slavery Convention of 1926 defines slavery as the “status or condition of a person over whom any or all of the powers attaching to the right of ownership are exercised…The slave trade includes all acts involved in the capture, acquisition or disposal of a person with intent to reduce him to slavery.”  Jehovah’s Witnesses that work at the world headquarters[xxi] or any of the branches throughout the world[16] are not “captured or acquired with the intent to reduce them to the status of property.”[17]  Members have to apply and qualify for Bethel employment.

The Human Rights of Excommunication

Another one of these accusations is the practice of disfellowshipping.  Disfellowshipping is Jehovah's Witnesses description of excommunication. It is a type of discipline pronounced by a tribunal called a judicial committee[xxii].  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.[xxiii]  Social boycotts have been an effective form of nonviolent resistance.[xxiv]  Some anti-cult activists like Havlond continue to claim that disfellowshipping is inhumane and degrading treatment.  This is not true.  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.[xxv]  The member can leave anytime he or she wants to.

“Theocratic War strategy

In the late 1950s, Jehovah’s Witness denominational leaders started teaching their members a doctrine called “Theocratic War Strategy.”  Theocratic War Strategy is defined as “hiding the truth.”[xxvi]  It is applied to God’s “enemies.”[xxvii] Theocratic War Strategy is a special circumstance where a Jehovah’s Witnesses might need to conceal the truth from an “enemy.” 

Certain cult watchdog groups have alleged that Jehovah’s Witnesses are taught to lie in court by using theocratic war strategy.  Activists like Bergman[xxviii], Magnani[xxix], and Reed[xxx] write articles charging the Jehovah’s Witnesses with “… deception in court by teaching the concept of theocratic warfare in which lying (or in the WT words, withholding the truth) is proper if it is in the interests of the organization.”  The truth is that Jehovah’s Witnesses are not taught to lie in court.  The same Watchtower articles that Bergman, Magnani, Reed, and others[18] use do not permit a Jehovah’s Witness to commit perjury. 

A 1960 Watchtower “Questions from Readers,”[xxxi] clarified that when using Theocratic War Strategy Jehovah’s Witnesses, “must tell the truth to one who is entitled to know, but if one is not so entitled [he or she] may be evasive… but not tell a falsehood.”  Theocratic War Strategy meant be evasive, not falsifying facts.  A Jehovah’s Witnesses that “take the witness stand and swear to tell the truth…must utter the truth.”  Bergman, Magnani, and Reeds allegations are patently false.[19]             

Steve Hassan

Steve Hassan, a colleague of Watters[20] is a concern.  At the 2006 CESNUR conference in San Diego John Bowen Brown II, wrote about Steve Hassan’s promoting involuntary deprogramming in his book Combating Cult Mind Control.[xxxii]  Hassan has not responded to this research, but others on his Yahoo message board have.[xxxiii]  Brown also debated his research with Tilman Hausherr on Wikipedia[xxxiv] All these sources argued against the possibility of Hassan promoting involuntary deprogramming.  Members of the Freedom of Mind Yahoo group responded by quoting Hassan’s Combating, which stated that he “decided not to participate in forcible interventions.”[xxxv]  While Hassan did write this, on the same page he explains, “Although the non-coercive approach will not work in every case, it has proved to be the option most families prefer.  Forcible intervention can be kept as a last resort if all other attempts fail.”[xxxvi]  In Combating, Hassan at least had promoted involuntary deprogramming as a tool to use when other methods fail to work

Final Observations

Havlond, Bergman, Reed and others use claims of human rights violations and illegal activity as a means to denigrate the character of te Jehovah’s Witness religion. These allegation are simpy a highly strategic form of character assassination.  Despite these ill-informed claims, there are some social issues within the Jehovah’s Witness religion that require further research It is hoped that other researchers will address the following topics:

·     A study of the Jehovah’s Witnesses judicial system

·     A study of the Jehovah’s Witness blood transfusion doctrine from a sociological viewpoint.

·     A study of the Jehovah’s Witness entrance and exiting processes.

·     A study of the Jehovah’s Witnesses Reform Movement.[21]

Proper research is the only achievement that will combat the unconstructive exaggerations and falsehoods that cult watchdog organizations circulate.


[1] Randall Watters has posted a transcript of his resignation letter on his web site.  The letter is not the original letter, but a typed transcript. It is suspicious that he would create a transcription of the letter rather than upload the original letter to his site. The transcription can be found at <http://www.freeminds.org/history/gbletter.htm>.

[2] The term cult watchdog groups will refer to the anti-cult and counter cult movements

[3] The Children of God, AKA, The Family is not to be confused with serial murderer Charles Manson’s group also called The Family

[4] The intervention occurred within six month of learning about the “kiddie porn” video

[5] I considered this precept law.  I followed it. All my friends were Jehovah’s Witnesses. I observed some who did not follow this precept. The general opinion in my area was the member was treading the dangerous ground of “bad associations.”

[6] My experience when leaving was positive with a few exceptions. A few members did hassle me. Also during this time over 20 members signed a get-well card and mailed it to me.

[7] This happened to me. I had to find new friends

[8] Free Minds operates three more web sites: Watchtower News.org , ExJWs.net, and RandyTV.com. Free Minds founder Randall Watters operated two site: Randall Watters.org  and Dogpatch (Watters personal blog)

[9] Information retrieved 6 March, 2008

[10] See Appendix 2

[11] Critics also accuse the Scientology religion of committing human rights violations

[12] I.e. Disfellowshipping, their term for excommunication

[13] My legal research started with a consultation with my attorney at Davis Miles, PLLC in Phoenix, Arizona.  The attorney wishes to remain uncited, and encouraged me to discuss my concerns further with a university law professor.

[14] “No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.”

[15] Havlond is referring to those that work at the denominational headquarters in the Brooklyn Borough of New York, New York (USA).

[16] The headquarters and branches are called Bethels by members

[17] As a former Jehovah’s Witness, I know that members had to apply and qualify for employment at the headquarters.  They could voluntarily resign, or be terminated.  They were given a small allotment to personal needs

[18] Randall Watters has published article about theocratic war strategy in the Free Minds Journal

[19] Since Bergman, Magnani, and Reed claim the opposite of what the Watchtower actually says, they must be lying or they never actually read these articles, making them unreliable


[21] See http://jwreform.org

[i] “Branch Letter” Our Kingdom Ministry Aug. 1980: 1.

[ii] Raymond Franz, “Point of Decision, Crisis of Conscience (Atlanta: Commentary Press, 1992) 261-326.

[iii] Randall Watters, “What Happened at the World Headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Spring of. 1980,” hardcopy, online (Los Angeles: Hope Chapel, 1981) < http://www.freeminds.org/history/whathapp.  Htm.

[iv] Franz, 261-326

[v] Randall Watters, “The Testimony of Randall Watters,” online letter, n.d. < http://www.freeminds.org/ history/watters.htm>.

[vi] “Remain Solid in the Faith,” Watchtower, 1 Aug. 1980: 17-19.

[vii] Watchtower 1 August 1980: 20-21.

[viii] “A History of FOCUS/ReFOCUS,” Carol Giambalvo Cult Information and Recovery, ed. Carol Giambalvo, 1995, Flagger Berach, FL. 11 Apr 2008 < http://members.aol.com/carol2180/history.htm>

[ix]  John Bowen Brown II, personal communication with Wally Shiel, 20 July 2003

[x] “Free Minds,” corporation, California Business Search, California Secretary of State, retrieved 5 March 2008 < http://kepler.sos.ca.gov/list.html>.

[xi] “Let  No One Spoil Your Useful  Habits,” Watchtower: Announcing Jehovah’s Kingdom, 5 Apr. 1993: 17-19.

[xii] Norman Havlond, “The Watchtower Society and Human Rights,” online blog posting, n.d., Blogger, 6 March 2008 < http://corior.blogspot.com/2006/02/watchtower-society-and-human-rights.html>.

[xiii] John B. Brown II,  “Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Anticult Movement: Human Rights Issues,” Religion, Globalization and Conflict: International Perspectives,  CESNUR 2006 International Conference, San Diego State University, San Diego,  13-16 July, 2006, 6 March 2008 < https://www.cesnur.org/2006/ sd_brown.htm>.

[xiv] Norm Havlond, “Dishonorable Mention,” online posting, 27 Oct. 2006, Jehovah’s Witness Discussion Forum, 5 March 2008 < http://www.jehovahs-witness.com/6/122963/2173701/post.ashx#2173701>.

[xv] Marius Emberland “How To Recognize Human Rights Issues in Practice,” Manual on Human Rights Monitoring: An Introduction for Human Rights Field Officers, ed. Hege Araldson and Oyvind W. Thiis, 6 March 2008 < http://www.hrea.org/erc/Library/display_doc.php?url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.humanrights.  uio.no%2Fnordem%2Fmanualen.html&external=N>.

[xvi] Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights, “Introduction,” Training Manual on Human Rights Monitoring, United Nations, 2001, 6 March 2008 < http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Publications/ training7Introen.pdf>.

[xvii] Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, 78 U.N.T.S. 277, entered into force 12 Jan 1951>.

[xviii] “Remaining Organized for Survival into the New Millennium”, The Watchtower: Announcing Jehovah’s Kingdom 1 Sept. 1989: 19>.

[xix] Slavery, Servitude, Forced Labour, and Similar Institutions and Practices Convention of 1926 (Slavery Convention of 1926), 60 L.N.T.S. 253, entered into force 9 March 1927

[xx] Protocol Amending the Slavery Convention, 182 U.N.T.S. 51, entered into force 7 December 1953

[xxi] Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, “Ways To Expand Your Minister,” Organized To Do Jehovah’s Will.

[xxii] Attention to Yourselves and to All the Flock, 107-116.

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

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

[xxv] Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, 110.

[xxvi] “Use Theocratic War Strategy, “ Watchtower 1 May 1957: 285.

[xxvii]Watchtower 1 May 1957: 286.

[xxviii] Dr. Jerry Bergman, “Theocratic War Strategy: Why Jehovah’s Witnesses Lie in Court” Free Minds Journal   Mar.-Apr. 1994, 8 Apr. 2008 < http://www.freeminds.org/psych/whylie.htm>.

[xxix] Bergman < http://www.freeminds.org/psych/whylie.htm>

[xxx] David Reed, “Court Rules: Watchtower Booklet Recommends 'Untrue' Testimony Under Oath,” Comments from the Friends

[xxxi] “Questions From Readers” Watchtower 1 June 1960: 351-352

[xxxii] Steve Hassan, Combating Cult Mind Control (South Paris: Park Street Press, 1990) 114.

[xxxiii] Joseph W. Pellet, “Requesting Help for Wikipedia Article,” online posting, 22 December 2006, Freedom of Mind Discussion List, 5 March 2008 < http://groups.yahoo.com/group/freedomofmind/ message/28881>.

[xxxiv] “Criticism Section,” online posting, n.d., Talk: Steve Hassan, 7 March 2008 <http://en.wikipedia.org/ wiki/Talk: Steven_Hassan>

[xxxv] Hassan, 114

[xxxvi] Hassan, 114


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