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The Supreme Court Rejected a Case About the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Sex Abuse By Hemant Mehta October 8, 2019 Yesterday, the Supreme Court announced that it would not take up a wild case concerning the organization that oversees the Jehovah’s Witnesses. We can breathe a huge sigh of relief that the case won’t be overturned. (In that link, it’s case 19-40 on page 42.) The case, which involved child molestation and religious secrecy, centered around an incident that took place on July 15, 2006. J.W., a nine-year-old girl with Jehovah’s Witness parents, was invited to her first slumber party at the home of Gilbert Simental. He had a daughter her age, so that wasn’t too weird. Two other girls (sisters) were also at the party. These families all knew and trusted Simental because, while he was no longer a local Witness leader, he had spent more than a decade as an elder in the faith. He was a religious leader who stepped down, he said, to spend more time with his son. They believed him. They all respected him. It’s why they allowed their girls into his home. During that party, everyone got into a pool in the backyard… including Simental. And he proceeded to molest J.W. and the sisters. He did it again later that night. The sisters eventually told their parents, who reported Simental to local Witness elders (which is what they’re taught to do in these situations). Simental confessed to some of the allegations, and the elders basically gave him a faith-based slap on the wrist: a reprimand that had no meaning outside church circles. Things changed only when the sisters’ school principal learned about what happened and, as required by law, reported the abuse to local law enforcement. Police soon contacted J.W.’s family asking for their story, but after consulting with the Witnesses, her father chose not to speak with the cops. It was a year later when J.W., then 10 years old, told her parents what Simental did to her in the pool. It infuriated them, and they told the Witness elders that they wanted a restraining order against him. The elders told him not to do that since it would require informing the police about what Simental did — and they preferred to keep his actions private. Here’s the bigger problem: There’s reason to believe the Witnesses were aware that Simental was a child molester… and they kept it from the families. Simental was allowed to be a religious leader — earning respect from the community — even though higher-ups in the religion knew that he shouldn’t be around children. It raised an important question: How much blame did the Witnesses deserve for what happened at that pool party? J.W.’s family eventually filed a criminal lawsuit against Simental and a separate civil suit against the Watchtower Society (the Witnesses’ governing organization). They basically said the Witnesses should have informed congregation members about Simental and stopped him from being around children. They never should have allowed him to be a religious leader. The Watchtower Society’s argument? They didn’t know Simental was a child molester, and the pool party occurred after he was no longer a religious leader, and the slumber party wasn’t a church-sponsored event, so leave them out of this. (To be clear, I’m simplifying the details of this case and the legal journey quite a bit.) When this case went to trial in California, J.W.’s family demanded that the Watchtower Society produce documents relating to what they knew about child molesters within the faith. The Witnesses had already admitted to keeping lists of problematic leaders along with their specific “crimes” — similar to the Catholic Church. If Simental was on that list — from 1997, nearly a decade before the pool incident — it would essentially be a smoking gun showing the Witnesses knew he was a threat to kids but did nothing about it. But the Witnesses refused to hand over that material. They treated it like Catholics treat confession: It’s private information, they argued, and to reveal what was said internally would violate their religious beliefs. J.W.’s family didn’t buy that argument. The information they wanted wasn’t bound by clergy-penitent confessional privilege. It’s not like Simental told the elders what he had done in order to confess his sins. He was caught. The Witnesses were merely shielding him from legal punishment. In the criminal trial, Witnesses elders were forced to admit their practices and that the private discussions they had about abusive clergy members were not considered confidential under the law. Mark O’Donnell, writing at JWSurvey, explained what happened next: Gilbert Simental was found guilty of three counts of lewd and lascivious acts upon a child under the age of 14. In 2008 he was sentenced to 45 years to life for his crimes. At his sentencing hearing, a sizable group of Jehovah’s Witnesses demonstrated solidarity with Simental, appealing for a more lenient sentence. JW and her parents were treated as if they broke the congregation code of silence. Simental’s appeal got him nowhere. He’s in prison today. But there were still so many questions about what responsibility the Witnesses had in this whole matter. J.W.’s family wanted to know why Simental, a known pedophile, was promoted within the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Why did they allow him to be around children? Why didn’t they warn families? Why did they just give him a slap on the wrist? In 2013, the civil trial began against the Watchtower Society, but again, the Witnesses didn’t want to provide necessary documents. They eventually lost the case. In 2015, the Riverside Superior Court of California awarded J.W. a judgment of $4,016,152.39. This past December, the Fourth District Court of Appeal in California upheld that decision. The plaintiff [J.W.] contended that the 1997 documents [the internal ones about known molesters in the church] were needed both [to] show negligence and basis for punitive damages. Under Code of Civil Procedure §425.14, a claim against a religious corporation for punitive damages requires leave from the trial court, and such leave may be granted only upon an affidavit showing clear and convincing evidence establishing such damages. [A judge] found unavailing Watchtower’s argument that it would take 19 years to sort through them, and also rejected the notion that they were covered by the clergy-penitent privilege. Despite the court’s order, Watchtower continuously ignored meet-and-confer requests by the plaintiff. J.W. asked the court for terminating sanctions, which Riverside Superior Court Judge Raquel A. Marquez granted after giving the church another four days to produce the documents, which it declined to do. You get the idea: The Witnesses refused to hand over internal data, presumably because it would’ve been like handing over a loaded gun. So the courts had no choice but to assume the plaintiff was telling the truth and the Watchtower Society was negligent in their handling of Simental. Earlier this year, in a Hail Mary attempt to reverse their punishment, the Watchtower Society appealed to the Supreme Court. They wanted the justices to say that documents relating to child abuse within a religious group can be kept confidential. Here’s how the Witnesses’ attorney introduced his case to the justices. (You don’t need a law degree to see how he just completely dismissed the molestation.) Here, Petitioner Watchtower sought to protect confidential, intra-faith communications among clergy (elders) regarding Bible-based religious appointment processes, some of which included congregants’ penitential confessions and all of which impacted privacy rights of non-parties. California targeted the faith of Jehovah’s Witnesses and impermissibly intruded upon matters of church governance, religious doctrine, and religious practice when it ordered Watchtower to produce these intra-faith communications. Without a trial, California imposed on Watchtower an unprecedented theory of liability for a congregant’s criminal conduct during nonchurch activity (a Saturday afternoon pool party at a private home). Watchtower attorney Paul Polidoro said the Supreme Court needed to consider whether California violated the Constitution when it held the Jehovah’s Witnesses responsible for what Simental did “during non-church activity,” forced them to hand over internal communications, and punished them for protecting everyone’s “privacy rights.” J.W.’s attorney responded to that brief asking the Court to flat-out reject this case. Given Watchtower’s disrespect for the legal system, penchant for violating court orders and habitual disregard for the rules of the court from which it is begging for mercy, it is not the litigant to champion any allegedly important issue before this Court. This is not a case that warrants this Court’s time. Indeed, that’s what the Court decided. When the first set of orders in the new term was released yesterday, there was this case among many many others, in the list of those which would not get heard this term. It was the right move. There’s nothing further to debate here. Finally, this case has been put to rest. (Image via Shutterstock. Large portions of this article were published earlier)
Why banning the Jehovah’s Witnesses won’t work for Russia BY EMILY B. BARAN APRIL 20TH 2017 The Supreme Court of Russia has a decision to make this week about whether to label the Jehovah’s Witnesses an extremist organization and liquidate its assets. This act would transform the religious community into a criminal network, and make individual Witnesses vulnerable to arrest simply for speaking about their faith with others. While the court case has attracted recent media attention, this move is the culmination of two decades of increasing state hostility to Witnesses. In the late 1990s, Moscow took the Witnesses to court to deny them legal standing in the city limits. After several years of court hearings, the city banned the organization. In more recent years, anti-extremism laws drafted in the wake of domestic terrorism have been turned against Witness magazines and books. Currently, over eighty publications have been placed on the federal list of extremist materials. Even their website is now illegal. So is My Book of Bible Stories, an illustrated book for children, listed alongside publications by terrorist organizations. If the state criminalizes the Witnesses, it will represent a major deterioration in religious toleration in post-Soviet Russia. It will also put Russia at odds with the European Court of Human Rights, which has repeatedly ruled in favor of the Witnesses in the past two decades. It may make other minority faiths vulnerable to similar legal challenges. In the 1990s, scholars spoke of a newly opened religious marketplace, in which post-Soviet citizens, freed from the constraints of state-enforced atheism, shopped around among the faith traditions. It is fair to say that these days, this marketplace has fewer customers, fewer stalls, and more regulations. If history is any guide, Russia will find it nearly impossible to eliminate Jehovah’s Witnesses. Soviet dissident author Vladimir Bukovsky once admiringly wrote of the Witnesses’ legendary persistence under ban. When the Soviet Union barred religious literature from crossing its borders, Witnesses set up underground bunkers to print illegal magazines for their congregations. When Soviet officials prohibited Witnesses from hosting religious services, they gathered in small groups in their apartments, often in the middle of the night. Sometimes they snuck away to nearby woods or out onto the vast steppe, where they could meet with less scrutiny. When the state told believers that they could not evangelize their faith to others, Witnesses chatted up their neighbors, coworkers, and friends. When these actions landed them in labor camps, Witnesses sought out converts among their fellow prisoners. Witnesses are certain to revive many of these tactics if placed in similar circumstances in the future. Moreover, technology makes it far more difficult for Russia to control the religious practices of its citizens. Although the Witnesses’ official website is no longer available in Russia, individual members can easily share religious literature through email or dozens of other social media platforms and apps. While Soviet Witnesses had to write coded reports and hand-deliver them through an underground courier network, Witnesses today can text this information in seconds. Technology will also facilitate meeting times for religious services in private homes. The Russian government simply does not have the manpower to enforce its own ban. It is hard to imagine that local officials could effectively prevent over 170,000 people across more than 2,000 congregations from gathering together multiple times per week, as Witnesses do worldwide. The case of Taganrog is instructive. Several hundred Witnesses lived there in 2009, when the city declared the organization illegal. A few years later, it convicted sixteen Witnesses for ignoring the ban and continuing to gather their congregations for services. The state spent over a year in investigations and court hearings for sixteen people, a tiny fraction of the total congregation, and then suspended the sentences and fines rather than waste more resources in following through on its punishment guidelines. There are not enough police officers in Russia to monitor the daily activities of each and every Witness, and the Witnesses know it. Under a ban, everyone will face more scrutiny, a few will be dealt more serious consequences, and most will continue practicing their faith regardless. Russia may nonetheless decide that all of this conflict is worth it. After all, Soviet officials were fairly successful in relegating Witnesses to the margins of society. Few Russians will complain if Witnesses no longer come to knock on their door. After all, even Americans rarely have kind words for religious missionaries at their own doorsteps. In my own research, I have never heard a single Russian, other than a scholar, say anything positive about Witnesses. For the record, my experience with Americans has been similar. On a more basic level, Russian citizens may not even notice the Witnesses’ absence from public life. While the post-Soviet period saw a religious revival for all faiths, far fewer joined the Witnesses than the Russian Orthodox Church. For all their recent growth in membership, the Witnesses remain a tiny minority in a largely secular society. The vocal determination of Witnesses not to acquiesce to state demands should not cause observers to overlook the very real damage a ban would do to this community. Yes, Witnesses have faced similar challenges before and have dealt with them. For decades, they held their baptisms in local rivers and lakes under cover of night. In the post-Soviet period, new members were finally able to celebrate their baptisms in full view of their fellow believers at public conventions. A long-time Witness who attended one of these events in the early 1990s recalled, “What happiness, what freedom!” A new ban would mean a return to this underground life, to a hushed ceremony in cold waters. This is not what freedom of conscience looks like in modern states. Emily B. Baran is the author of Dissent on the Margins: How Jehovah’s Witnesses Defied Communism and Lived to Preach About It. Her work explores the shifting contours of dissent and freedom in the Soviet Union and its successor states. She is Assistant Professor of History at Middle Tennessee State University.
Report: Supreme Court to hear the case to ban the Jehovah's Witnesses religion April 5, 2017 Trying to complete ban Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia The Russian Supreme Court began hearings on the suit on the Elimination of Jehovah's Witnesses. It conducted a text report from the courtroom. 10:58 Big beautiful courtroom crowded. There are more than 200 people, including many journalists, representatives of public organizations and foreign embassies. The hearing began at 10:30. A little less than 250 people were left on the street waiting for the results of the hearing. Cook Street in Moscow is filled with cars with transmitting television antennas. Occurring remove numerous chamber. Of police radios periodically hear the message "All is calm, without incident." In the hall representatives of embassies and international organizations in the headphones listening to the process of translation. The case was heard Judge Yuri Ivanenko. The defendant, "the Administrative Center of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia" are 6 persons, including Vasily Kalin of the Steering Committee, as well as lawyers. The representative of Ministry of Justice of Russia - Svetlana Borisova. Attached to the case with the defendant's objections to the applications in 35 volumes. The court allowed the photographing and video recording only when the announcement of the final act. However, there is no record of obstacles. In the hall there are about 40 members of the media, they occupy the first rows of the audience. 11:00 The court refused to accept a counter claim for recognition of the Ministry of Justice acts of political repression. The judge described the passage of objections to the claim sufficient measure of protection for the defendant. 11:15 Representatives of Jehovah's Witnesses apply for admission to participation in the case of representatives of all 395 local religious organizations. Lawyer little wife: "If believers throughout Russia will be deprived of their rights, let them hear it here in court." Local religious organizations, contrary to the logic of the Ministry of Justice, are not the structural units of each other, but separate legal entities. 11:20 The lawyer Lew gives an example: "The logic of the Ministry of Justice, it turns out, it is necessary to impose a sentence: Shoot chieftain. And his whole platoon. " 11:25 The court rejected the enlistment of the 395 local organizations as a respondent. 11:30 Jehovah's Witnesses have asked the court to allow audio broadcasting the trial. The court refused. 11:35 Lawyers for the Jehovah's Witnesses are asking the court to adjourn the hearing pending the outcome of another case in another court. It is an appeal to the Court of Justice order the suspension of the activities of organizations . 11:42 The Ministry of Justice objected, because it believes that the authorities had every right to suspend the activities of organizations. 11:45 The court refused to postpone the hearing. 11:50 Omelchenko lawyer seeks the abandonment of the claim without consideration of the Ministry of Justice. The plaintiff is not complied with the pre-trial procedure for settling claims to the 395 communities of Jehovah's Witnesses. Before you make a claim for the liquidation of 395 local religious organization of Jehovah's Witnesses, the authorities, by law, had to make an official warning each of them and to give time to correct them. 11:55 The second reason for the abandonment without consideration of this claim lies in the fact that the Russian courts have treated similar cases of liquidation and recognition of the "extremist" 2 out of 395 local Jehovah's Witnesses organizations (Karachay-Cherkessia and the Samara region). 12:05 The Court dismissed the petition on the abandonment without consideration. 12:10 Representatives of Jehovah's Witnesses are asked to postpone the hearing for one week due to the fact that the Ministry of Justice sent a statement of claim to the defendant in time. It came in the mail only to March 28, 2017. In addition, the Ministry of Justice to provide the defendant not all documents specified in the annexes to the statement of claim. 12:17 The Ministry of Justice does not object to the adjournment of the case. 12:19 The court refused to postpone the case. 12:20 Lawyer little wife seeks the suspension of the case due to the fact that in a number of Russian vessels submitted applications for consideration in force decisions of the courts on newly discovered evidence. We are talking about the revision in force of affairs on the Elimination of 8 local religious organizations (MPO) and the introduction of 88 publications of Jehovah's Witnesses in FSEM. The fact that all those court decisions were made without the involvement of the Administrative Center of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia, since the Ministry of Justice insisted that the court decisions in relation to the LRO not affect the rights of the Administrative Center of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia. In the present case the Ministry of Justice changed position and now all accusations against MPO, imputed to the Administrative Center. 12:30 The Ministry of Justice objected to the suspension, considering that, in cases involving MPO attended the same lawyers as in the case of liquidation of the MPO. 12:33 The court retired to the deliberation room. 13:50 The Court went out of the deliberation room. The suspension of the case was denied. 13:55 Little wife's lawyer said the petition to bring to participate in the case of experts, namely the religious scholars and linguists. Specialists may clarify whether are really extremist and dangerous texts that form the basis of the requirements of the Ministry of Justice to ban an entire religion in Russia. 14:00 Asked by the judge whether to propose lawyers to arrange a "revision" of court decisions, which was included in the literature FSEM lawyers explained that this information will be important to determine the proportionality of the Ministry of Justice requirements. 14:04 The representative of the Ministry of Justice objected to the admission of experts for the hearing. 14:05 The court refused to attract specialists to the hearing. 14:06 The lawyer asks little wife get to take part in the 9 foreign legal persons representing the religious communities of Jehovah's Witnesses in Europe and America. The reason is that the Ministry of Justice in its lawsuit asks the court to confiscate properties belonging to these organizations. 14:14 The court refused to attract foreign companies to participate in the case. 14:15 Omelchenko said the lawyer about bringing a motion to participate in the proceedings as interested parties of eight Russian citizens who were rehabilitated as victims of political repression. These people present in the room. Lawyers argue convincingly that these people rehabilitated from the turn in the case of satisfaction of the claim to the "extremists". 14:20 The Ministry of Justice said that the court decides on the liquidation of legal entities, it does not apply to individuals. In his reply the lawyer reminded the little wife that such considerations were guided by Soviet authorities, banning the religion of Jehovah's Witnesses, however, repression of painful blow it for the people, so that they have been rehabilitated. 14:25 Court denies the petition. 14:30 Lawyers apply for the interrogation of individual citizens, followers of the religion of Jehovah's Witnesses who can testify about what measures have been taken by Jehovah's Witnesses in order to prevent extremist activity. 14:35 The Ministry of Justice does not object. The court granted. 14:40 Lawyers say the request for interrogation as witnesses of persons recognized as victims of political repression. The Ministry of Justice objected. Court refuses. 14:43 Representative of Jehovah's Witnesses Nowak said petition for interrogation as witnesses of persons who witnessed falsification of evidence against those who believe in things that the Ministry of Justice uses in his lawsuit as "further evidence of the offense." 14:45 On the judge's objection that it comes to an effective decision, Novak says that in the present case can not be used prejudicial approach, because it is a different legal entity. The court must examine the evidence directly. Novakov tells the court about the circumstances and tossed perjuredly indications in a number of Russian cities. 15:00 The Ministry of Justice objected, arguing that the questioning, they believe authorities, aims to "to review the decision to enter into force." The court refused to examine witnesses evidence of fraud simple local Jehovah's Witnesses organizations.