LEGAL ISSUES AFFECTING CHILDREN OF JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES
UPDATED JUNE 2021.
"[You and your wife should] enter the colporteur work, and, if necessary, leave [your FOUR YEAR-OLD DAUGHTER] with friends for a week, or a month, at a time. I feel sure the Lord will be pleased to have you do so." -- (Edited for clarity. Emphasis ours.)
This was written advice given in 1904 by WatchTower Cult founder, Charles Taze Russell, to an early-30s married couple, who were being pressured by two WatchTower Cult colporters living with them to forsake their family obligations, give up their home, give up the husband's good job, and also become subsistence level, fulltime traveling door-to-door WatchTower book peddlers.
This rarely-mentioned and nearly-forgotten facet of early WatchTower Cult life, which encouraged parents to leave their infants with others for extended periods of time while they traveled and sold books fulltime for the cult, lingered into the 1940s, when the WatchTower Cult expressly discouraged its followers from burdening themselves with children. Starting in 1889, Russell encouraged parents with older children to send them out alone into their community's business sections (not door-to-door) as "Child-Colporteurs". Later, during both Rutherford's and Knorr's tenures, CONSOLATION magazine featured photographs of cult children as young as 4 years-old hawking CONSOLATION magazines on city street corners.
JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES: VIEW FROM THE OUTSIDE LOOKING IN
In 1995, France held an inquiry into "sectes" (French equivalent of "cults"). That Board of Inquiry found the following "characteristics of sectes":
Mental destabilization; exorbitant financial requirements; isolation from general society; danger to physical health; forced conscription of child labor; antisocial speech; breaking of criminal laws; abuse of the court system through attempted enforcement of the sect's alleged legal rights; interference with businesses and employers; and attempted infiltration of government and other public agencies.
In 2006, France conducted an Inquiry regarding the physical and mental health of children in "movements with a sectarian character". That French Inquiry found that children living and growing up in "sectes" were at a disadvantage in comparison to other children, because social seclusion hindered their development, and led to an underdevelopment of their critical thinking skills.
The 2006 French Inquiry further postulated that children reared in "sectes" were unlikely to leave the "secte", because mainstream society had been depicted as monstrous and harmful throughout their childhood, and even if they should decide to leave, they were maladjusted to life outside the "secte". Of those children who actually did leave a "secte", it typically was the result of their parents' leaving; divorce where one parent was a member and the other was not; or forced removal after child protection agencies became involved on child protection grounds.
The French Inquiry estimated that leisure time for children growing up in "sectes" was severely limited. The French Inquiry estimated that 8 year-old children of Jehovah's Witnesses devoted around 23 hours weekly to "secte" study, preparing for "secte" meetings, and doing "secte" proselytizing -- all on top of school and homework. All of the children's interests and activities were limited to the "secte", and many "sectes" such as the Jehovah's Witnesses discouraged children from pursuing higher education by denying that anything children are taught in the outside world is accurate, or valuable to the "secte" and its mission. Moreover, for Jehovah's Witness children, school often was the only place where they interacted with people and children outside their "secte". The balancing of black and white group values with outside values, such as those learned at school, and the secte's instilled polarization of society as "good versus evil", placed a burden on children's everyday lives. Children were made to believe that the only important work they could do was for the "secte". "Sectes", such as the Jehovah's Witnesses, further induced negative feelings in its children of responsibility for other's lives, and guilt, by requiring them to convert as many people as possible in an attempt to "save" lives.
The introduction of specific laws to regulate religious high-control groups has been met with a big outcry of criticism. Critics argue on the basis of Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, amongst other international treaties, that everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion; that this right includes freedom to change their religion or belief; and freedom, either alone or in community with others, and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship, and observance.
BURDEN ON COURTS, LAW ENFORCEMENT, CHILD PROTECTION AGENCIES, HOSPITALS, DOCTORS, ETC.
It is estimated that there are 1200-1500 court cases filed every year in the United States which involve child custody disputes in Divorce cases involving a Jehovah's Witness Parent. In 1990, the chairman of the American Bar Association's Child Custody Committee estimated that roughly 50% of all child custody cases then being reviewed by state appellate courts involved a parent who was a Jehovah's Witness. In the mid-1980s, when there were only about two-thirds as many Jehovah's Witnesses in the United States as there are in 2016, the WatchTower Society's Legal Department was receiving 80-90 inquiries per month from its own Jehovah's Witnesses Members who were involved in divorce-related custody disputes.
Custody cases involving children who are being denied life-saving blood transfusions by their Jehovah's Witness Parents may be even more frequent. Probably the only entity that has kept track of the numbers over the decades is the WatchTower Society Legal Department, and they certainly will never tell. One researcher has estimated that the annual rate of JW Minors who need a blood transfusion is one case for every one thousand Jehovah's Witnesses. If close, that would mean that currently, there are 1100+ such cases annually here in the United States. Readers should understand that HIPAA has for all practical purposes ended the public reporting of court-ordered blood transfusions for minors, as well as the public reporting of deaths of adult JWS due to refusing blood transfusions. (Researchers should take a look at the WatchTower Cult's support of the passage of HIPAA.)
Try to imagine the multiple burdens of various types that this needless issue places on the American judicial and health care systems every single year. For example, in Florida, in August 2011, the Broward County State Attorney stated that his local office alone had handled 12 cases in the past 3 years of instances where Jehovah's Witness Parents were refusing to consent to life-saving blood transfusions needed by their minor children. In 2007, the spokesperson for Vanderbilt University Medical Center, in Nashville, Tennessee, told a reporter that that hospital alone had to go to court 2 to 3 times every year to get court authorization for life-saving blood transfusions for Jehovah's Witness Minors. In 1990, one Oklahoma City juvenile court judge related that he annually averaged ordering blood transfusions for five children of Jehovah's Witness Parents. In 1986, a spokesperson for the Harris County Children's Protective Services, of Houston, Texas, stated that HCCPS had requested and received custody of approximately 10-12 JW Children who needed life-saving blood transfusions. The more shocking point made by the HCCPS spokesperson was that there had been many more cases of children of Jehovah's Witnesses, in Harris County hospitals who needed life-saving blood transfusions, in which those hospitals themselves directly requested court intervention, without HCCPS involvement. HCCPS was called upon only under extreme circumstances. Interestingly, ten years later, in 1997, a spokesperson for the Harris County District Attorney stated that their office handled 1 to 2 cases every month in which JW Parents refused to consent to blood transfusions needed by their minor children. In a 1989 interview, the spokesperson for Loma Linda University Children's Hospital, in California, told a reporter that that hospital alone administered 4 to 5 court-ordered blood transfusions to Jehovah's Witness Minors every year.
Do the math! The annual cost of this medieval Jehovah's Witness belief and practice in both time and expense to the American judicial and health care systems must be staggering. Much of this problem could be solved if state legislatures would codify their own state Supreme Court's decision that every child is legally entitled to necessary life-saving blood transfusions. THERE NEEDS TO BE A NATIONAL MOVEMENT PROMOTING SUCH IN EVERY STATE. Hospitals should be given the legal authority to automatically administer necessary life-saving blood transfusions to any child who needs such, rather than being forced to sit and watch children struggle for their lives, and even sometimes die, while hospital staff and attorneys are repeatedly forced to go to their local court and request permission simply to save those children's lives. Until that happens, more hospitals should do what Seattle's Children's Hospital did in 2001. In conjunction with Washington state law, Seattle's Children's Hospital developed an administrative policy that mandates that all "minors" admitted to its facility will receive all medically necessary emergency treatment, including blood transfusions. Tired of being forced to repeatedly seek judicial intervention during emergency situations, Children's Hospital now takes the position that if anyone is going to be forced to jump through legal hoops, then it will be the Jehovah's Witnesses Parents who may attempt to obtain a court order stopping the administration of life-saving blood transfusions.
The purpose of this website is to bring together in one website as many real-world cases involving children of Jehovah's Witness Parents as can be located. Currently, this website summarizes or discusses in varying degrees approximately 1900 cases and incidents -- including civil court cases, criminal court cases, complaints filed with various governmental agencies, media reports, and other miscellaneous memorializations. Approximately 500 Cases are summarized in the BLOOD TRANSFUSIONS section; approximately 200 Cases are summarized in the DIVORCES section; approximately 1050 Cases are summarized in the five CRIME related sections; and approximately 150 Cases are summarized in other sections. Additionally, this website is home for the INTERNET'S BEST webpages disclosing newly discovered relevant HISTORICAL BACKGROUND INFORMATION on the WatchTower Society and its leadership.
The information found on this website will hopefully be of benefit to parents, grandparents, and even attorneys involved in court cases involving members of the Jehovah's Witnesses religion. Other relatives, family friends, doctors, nurses, teachers, counselors, ministers, government officials, and others involved in the lives of Jehovah's Witness Families may also find the information found on this website to be beneficial. Additionally, since court cases often provide otherwise unseen glimpses into the private lives of the involved parties, researchers, authors, and others interested in studying the culture, practices, beliefs, and other aspects of the Jehovah's Witnesses religion may also find the information found here to be highly informative and beneficial.
DIVORCE, CHILD CUSTODY, JW FAMILIES, AND THE LAW
The United States Supreme Court has yet to enter the fray of custody and religious upbringing of children in Divorce proceedings. Thus far, such decisions have been left to the individual states. This has resulted in a hodgepodge of rules and interpretations that vary from state to state. This is extremely interesting given the amount of litigation, but more significantly, given the fact that such state decisions often require an extremely delicate balancing of the constitutional right of each parent and of each child to freedom of religious expression, parenting, deciding medical care, etc.
Jehovah's Witness Parents, especially those with spouses who are not Jehovah's Witnesses, are generally aware of their own state's laws regarding the rearing of their children as Jehovah's Witnesses. The WatchTower Society's Legal Department is anxious to assist without charge Jehovah's Witnesses and their local attorney in custody proceedings. In fact, Jehovah's Witnesses have been instructed that the WatchTower Society's Legal Department should be notified of all custody cases in which the WatchTower religion is an issue. If the Jehovah's Witness Parent loses at trial level, the WatchTower Society is even more anxious to assist with the appellate case. If the case reaches the state's Supreme Court, the non-JW Parent may very well see a WatchTower Lawyer sitting at the opposing table. The WatchTower Society's Legal Staff includes attorneys who work custody cases on a fulltime basis. This has allowed them to gain an enormous amount of experience and expertise in child custody cases.
Thus, it should go without saying that it is absolutely essential for a non-JW Parent to obtain experienced legal advice and representation as soon as possible after the issue rears its head.
BLOOD TRANSFUSIONS, JW FAMILIES, AND THE LAW
"The day's news tells of a mother who sacrificed six ounces of her blood in a transfusion for her baby girl. Strange that the busy press should even consider this news. A mother who wouldn't consent to a blood transfusion for her child would be much greater news, and the world a sorry place indeed on the day that such news is found!" -- Columnist Allene Sumner, in 1926.
Since the WatchTower Society first stopped Jehovah's Witnesses from accepting blood transfusions in 1945, there has been a stream of state and federal court cases which have slowly but surely chipped away at the moral concept that to allow an adult or a child to needlessly die inside a hospital setting is something unconscionable to our modern society. However, such has nearly been completely accomplished -- thanks to the tireless efforts of the WatchTower Society's Legal Department.
The law in the United States regarding Jehovah's Witnesses and their refusal to accept blood transfusions is somewhat settled, although subject to exceptions. Most competent adults have the constitutional right to refuse to accept a blood transfusion, even if such refusal means they will die. Every year in the United States, an unknown number of adult Jehovah's Witnesses exercise their constitutional right to choose death over a life-saving blood transfusion. For every account of such death that is reported in the news media, there are an unknown multiple number of instances that go unreported due to ever-tightening confidentiality rules that restrain medical and hospital staff from disclosing the fact that a JW death was actually due to the deceased's refusal to accept a blood transfusion, or the refusal of consent by the JW next-of-kin. For example, recently, a high-profile JW was seriously injured in an auto accident. Multiple local media sources implied or outright stated that the JW died at the scene of the accident. A few media sources reported that the JW was pronounced dead on arrival at the ER. One lone media article reported that the high-profile JW not only was alive on arrival at the hospital, but that the JW's family members even had time to come to the hospital, and that the injured JW died at some point thereafter. Does anyone seriously doubt that blood transfusions were an issue in that death?
(Commercial break. This also explains why these two websites almost always contain more details and more accurate summaries than other websites. We try to exhaust every information source available at the time of summary before we post such. We only recently posted a summary of a court case that we have known about for a decade or longer. The delay resulted from our wait on verification that some of the principle actors were JWs, as we had long suspected. End of commercial.)
Adult Jehovah's Witness Parents and Guardians also will attempt to impose the same "death decision" on their minor children, but practically every hospital will attempt to obtain a court order which will permit them to administer medically necessary blood transfusions over the parent's objections -- assuming that the Jehovah's Witness Child is still alive by the time all the legalities are completed. Courts in the United States will nearly always appoint a temporary legal guardian under such circumstances to oversee and guarantee necessary medical care.
Readers should be aware that there have been a few isolated instances of inept judges who have refused the hospital's request for guardianship and consent to administer needed blood transfusions. Readers should also be aware that there have been a few isolated instances of hospitals which had administrative staff sympathetic to the WatchTower religion who have failed to even attempt to obtain judicial intervention. THESE ARE ADDITIONAL REASONS WHY THERE IS A NEED FOR A NATIONAL MOVEMENT TO HAVE EVERY STATE LEGISLATURE CODIFY THEIR OWN STATE'S SUPREME COURT DECISION WHICH ALREADY RULES THAT JEHOVAH'S WITNESS CHILDREN ARE LEGALLY ENTITLED TO LIFE-SAVING BLOOD TRANSFUSIONS.
Scenarios involving Jehovah's Witnesses Minors nearing the age of majority, pregnant JW Mothers and their "fetuses", and adult JWs who have existing parental obligations, are less settled, but are heading in the anticipated direction.
One of the benefits of studying the decades-long stream of court cases which have gradually given Jehovah's Witnesses the legal rights they now have regarding blood transfusions is learning about and understanding how during this decades-long process, the Jehovah's Witnesses have shared ideals and legal precedents with other groups which had common legal causes and interests.
For instance, the continued fight for legalization of abortion shares some of the same arguments as does the continuing blood transfusions issue as it relates to "unborn children", or as Jehovah's Witnesses prefer to label them when arguing such court cases -- "fetuses". Legal precedents have been shared by both groups. Opening the way to reject blood transfusions opens the way for other life-saving medical procedures to be refused. Right-to-die and assisted suicide advocates share some common arguments with the Jehovah's Witnesses. One can't help but wonder if and how often attorneys from some of these groups assisted the others with their own causes in order to help their own cause.
Another "light bulb" that finally came on during this legal study answered our decades-long curiosity as to why there were enclaves of Jehovah's Witnesses scattered around the United States who were adamant supporters of the "home birth" industry, which usually involves the services of midwives, but occasionally has also involved a few physicians. (See CALIFORNIA v. DOYLE and CALIFORNIA v. TARPENING for two MURDER convictions which involved midwives, licensed and not, who were Jehovah's Witnesses.) Now, we know why. One can only wonder how many hundreds, or possibly even thousands, of Jehovah's Witness newborn babies, who needed a blood transfusion to survive, died because their birth occurred outside a hospital setting. One can only wonder how many Jehovah's Witness families with known genetic problems, such as Rh factor incompatibility, repeatedly had baby, after baby, after baby, as those Jehovah's Witness Parents simply played a numbers game waiting for one to eventually survive. Back in the 1960s-70s, there was one African-American Jehovah's Witness Family which had had FIVE babies die at one point, yet those idiots continued to try to reproduce.
JEHOVAH'S WITNESS CHILDREN & CHILD PROTECTIVE SERVICES
Every state within the United States of America has established special laws which protect its citizens whom are under the age of 18 from abuse and neglect committed against them by any other person. State laws protect Minors from every form of abuse -- physical abuse, emotional abuse, mental abuse, etc. State laws protect Minors from abuse committed by any other person -- natural parents, foster parents, grandparents, other relatives, or any other adult attempting to exercise authority and control over them.
Children of Jehovah's Witness Parents who have made the mistake of being baptized into the WatchTower religious cult before reaching the age of 18 years-old should always remember that they still remain under the special protection of their state's child protection laws until they become an adult. Regardless of whatever mistake -- minor or major -- that a baptized child of Jehovah's Witness Parents may have made, any punitive actions taken by their Jehovah's Witness Parents or the Congregation Elders must comply with that state's child protection laws.
It is our personal opinion that no Minor -- baptized or not -- should ever meet with any individual Congregation Elder, or group of Congregation Elders, for any reason whatsoever, unless that Minor is accompanied AT ALL TIMES during that meeting by one or both JW Parents. Do NOT assume that just because the Congregation Elders or your JW Parents tell you that they are following proper procedures -- the WatchTower Society's procedures, the Congregation's procedures, or otherwise -- that such procedures comply with your state's child protection laws. If something does not seem appropriate to you, you may wish to register your objection, refuse to speak, or under appropriate circumstances, even contact law enforcement. It is our personal opinion that if a Minor -- baptized or not -- is ever "tricked" or "intimidated" into being interrogated alone by one or more Congregation Elders, that Minor should notify Child Protective Services what happened to them as soon as possible thereafter.
It is our personal opinion that no Minor -- baptized or not -- should ever appear before a 2-Elder Congregation Investigation Committee or a 3-Elder Congregation Judicial Committee, even if accompanied by a JW Parent, until that Minor has first notified their local Child Protective Services agency of what all is happening in their life, and then, only after CPS has investigated the situation and recommended to the Minor that they appear before either the Congregation Investigation Committee or the Congregation Judicial Committee. (See RIA WILLIAMS Case.)
If a BAPTIZED MINOR is ever formally sanctioned or "shunned" in any manner whatsoever by a Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses -- "marked", "privately reproved", "publicly reproved", "disfellowshipped", or otherwise -- it is our personal opinion that that BAPTIZED MINOR should notify Child Protective Services as soon as possible. In such scenarios, older, "mature" baptized Minors may wish to consult with a CPS professional about the propriety of contacting the local news media with their story.
Child Protective Services can be contacted directly, or Minors may more conveniently speak with one of their schoolteachers, school nurses, school counselors, or other school administrator. These professionals have all been trained how to handle such an inquiry, and they will do so CONFIDENTIALLY.
ANOTHER INFORMATIVE WEBSITE
SUMMARIZING OVER 1300 JW COURT CASES: