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A license to kill people socially

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Authored by Patrick Haeck

[This blog provides an update to Patrick’s previous experience in a Belgian court, watching the Witnesses make an appeal to overturn the assertion that Shunning is a crime.]

Jehovah’s Witnesses are gifted a ‘License to kill people socially’

On 7 June 2022, the Ghent Court of Appeal acquitted the organisation of Jehovah’s Witnesses (JWs) of all charges brought against them by some 15 civil parties, thereby gifting them a license to kill people socially.

To my social media friends on June 8, I reported this news as follows: “I regret to inform you that the Court of Appeals has acquitted the JW organization across the board. I will soon be sitting down with all the lawyers to consider what options we have left. I know this feels bitter to everyone, but we are not at the end of the story. A lost battle is not a lost war!”

To my colleagues at the Open Minds Foundation, I reported on June 12, “Hi everyone. Just to let you know I am busy preparing to fight the decision of the appeal court. All involved lawyers have the sincere wish to go into Cassation (the Supreme Court of Belgium) – the next step above the Appeal Court. I’m also trying to contact Professor Hoyano, as I think she can help our case. In 2017, she reported, as best as I can remember, at a conference in London: ‘JW’s claim religious freedom. But religious freedom is a right that is part of the UDHR – human rights. There is no such a thing as UDHR – organizational rights. JWs are claiming, like other religious groups, freedom of religion to steel this right from there members and ex members and violating article 30 from UDHR.’”

It’s all about Coercion

Jehovah’s Witnesses are adept at coercing its members to act against their own best interest. In fact, during the conversion process, they slowly but surely use coercive control to bring new and existing members into social isolation by prohibiting the celebration of virtually all festivals. No Christmas, no New Year, birthdays are forbidden, Father’s Day, Mother’s Day, … everything is labelled as ‘pagan’ and a reason for exclusion from the community if one of the members participates.

In contacts with this community, members are unconsciously but effectively separated from their family and friends, only to be completely absorbed by this closed community. Exclusion among JWs is accompanied by the social shunning of the excluded member. Even to say ‘Hello’ to such a person is labelled as ‘disappointing God’.

The social death declaration is labelled as a reflection of “loyalty to God’s standards”. The break in contact with the outside world along with the social death sentence by JWs leaves an ex-member on his own after exclusion, rejected by everyone. In all cases this leads to a deep depression, very often to suicidal tendencies and not infrequently to successful acts of despair.

Baptised teenagers who break the rules are not infrequently and mercilessly expelled from their homes by their JW parents. Unless they return and conform, they are ostracized for the rest of their lives. When teenagers are excluded, it is almost always due to sex before marriage, homosexuality or smoking. Even when grandchildren come along later, the ‘loyal JW’ parents refuse to see their grandchildren, let alone bond with them, thus avoiding any contact with the ‘apostate’ children.

Taking the appropriate action

Because of the language used by JWs, I filed a criminal case against the exclusion policy of the JW organisation in Belgium. The complaint includes the accusation of hatred and incitement to hatred, of discrimination and incitement to discrimination. Why?

JWs do not hesitate to label members who were excluded or who withdrew from the organisation, as mentally ill, dogs who have returned to eating their own vomit, incorrigible wicked people who must be ‘exterminated’ in Armageddon.

JW members are further pressured to avoid all contact with excluded people, even family members, through statements such as:

  • Excluded people deserve the death penalty – although it is not immediately carried out by God. Do parents share God’s view?
  • Not to look for excuses to associate with family members who no longer live in the same house.

In early 2021, the organisation was ordered to pay a fine of €96,000 in a Belgium criminal court and it was clearly stated that the charges were well-founded across the board. In the response to the JW Appeal, the judge dismissed everything as ‘unfounded’. It could not be proven that JW members were pressured and would mainly use the shunning of their own free will, exclusion and shunning would be contained in the ECHR, statements in the JW publications would be taken out of context and misinterpreted, JWs would not be sufficiently heard by the Public Prosecutor during the judicial investigation.

What could possibly be one reason to lodge a cassation appeal in the Supreme Court of Belgium? In his judgment, the Court of Appeal repeatedly refers to the application of Art. 9 of the ECHR. It is true that there are quite some differences of opinion on the application of ‘freedom of religion’.

Professor Laura Hoyana, who lectures at the Faculty of Law of Oxford University, makes it clear that the ECHR, the European Convention on Human Rights, is also what it is. This treaty deals with the rights of the HUMAN person and not of an organisation, state or association. The human being prevails here, as was also intended by the UDHR. Like many other religious minorities with sectarian characteristics, JWs claim ‘freedom of religion’ with the aim of depriving their members, and by extension their ex-members, of this freedom of religion. In doing so, they violate Article 30 of the UDHR, the Declaration on which the ECHR declares itself to be based!

Without being ‘a human being’ with human rights as an organisation, JWs claim ‘freedom of religion as an association of natural persons’ in order to put their members in front of the terrible choice to either leave the organisation and be separated from family and friends forever or to choose for family and friends and thus also realise and accept ‘the deception’ of the JW doctrines and beliefs. Article 30 of the UDHR, moreover, seems to be designed precisely to distinguish between human rights and the rights of a state or group.

Together with the lawyers involved, we are now reviewing the verdict to see if there is a solid basis for an appeal to the Supreme Court. In any case, JWs, due to the June 7 Appeals Court decision, JWs now have a ‘License to kill people socially’.

You can read most of this story in Dutch, which was published on June 16.

An update as of September 1, 2022: Patrick and his lawyers did indeed make an appeal to the Supreme Court on this egregious decision by the Appeals Court. The Supreme Court is carefully reviewing this matter and will make their decision, a final decision, within the next few months. Stay tuned for their decision.

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