Jehovah’s Witnesses sued FECRIS in Germany before the Hamburg Country Court to force the deletion of a total of 32 statements. In its final judgment of November 27, 2020 (Case No. 324 0 434/18), the court dismissed the action on 14 points. Significant statements were deemed admissible by the court.
The most important judgments
Alienation from society and state
The consistent abstention from participation in political public life is to be evaluated as aggressive alienation from society and the state, as is the recommendation to refrain contact with former members, the refusal of blood transfusions and various festivities. (1.1)
The organization is subversive because it considers the state as an enemy, inspired by the devil, which must be fought until a final conflict. Fighting the state does not have to be done through active action. It can also be brought about by passive behavior, e.g. by being politically neutral and not participating in state elections . (1.30, 1.31)
Jehovah’s Witnesses disregard fundamental human rights
Jehovah’s Witnesses are to be evaluated overall as a movement that disregards fundamental human rights.
People who do not belong to the faith of the plaintiff (JW) are classified as fundamentally “evil” and are looked down upon. Women must be subordinate to their husbands. Marriage to non-believers is discouraged, and homosexuality and transsexuality are strictly rejected. The fundamental rejection of blood transfusions may also be seen as a disregard for fundamental human rights, since it can affect a person’s right to life. Furthermore, the right to vote is not respected insofar as Jehovah’s Witnesses are encouraged not to participate in state elections. (1.25)
Refusal of blood transfusions
Refusing medically indicated blood transfusions to their children may be considered the commission of a crime. (1.4)
Accepting a blood transfusion will result in expulsion from the community if the individual does not repent. (1.24)
Members are controlled by supervisors
The instructions that apply to all other members of the organization are controlled by male overseers or “supervisors.” (1.7)
Women must be subordinate
Women are required to acknowledge their husbands as “head” in deciding disputed issues and to submit to him in sexual matters as well. (1.11)
If the elders deem a woman’s dress inappropriate and assume “brazen conduct”, this may ultimately lead to a legal committee proceeding. (1.8)
For more information on discrimination against women, click here.
Dropouts are ostracized
Members who drop out and reject the teachings are branded as “heretics” or “apostates.” (1.23)
Legal action may be taken against a member if he or she associates with those who have been disfellowshipped or have disassociated, and if he or she maintains “constant spiritual fellowship with the expelled person” with relatives, or openly criticizes the disfellowshipping. (1.26)
Whether one is disfellowshipped or leaves on one’s own, one is an “apostate.” (1.27)
For more information on shunning and ban on contact, click here.
Overview of permissible statements
In the following, the statements are listed in the heading, and in the text that follows, excerpts of the court’s reasoning are given.
1.1 Characteristic features of this organization are an aggressive alienation from society and the state, […].
The statement constitutes a permissible expression of opinion, since the statement is characterized by an assessment of the plaintiff’s (JW) appearance. The necessary connecting factors are also present for the assessment as “aggressive alienation” […].
Admittedly, the plaintiff rightly referred to the above-mentioned decision of the BVerfG, in which the latter assumes that the plaintiff is “only” pursuing an apolitical lifestyle. However, it is not legally objectionable to evaluate the consistent abstention from participation in political public life alone as aggressive alienation from society and the state. Furthermore, the undisputed numerous behaviors prescribed for the members, such as the recommendation to refrain from contact with former members, the rejection of various festivities as well as blood transfusions, must be taken into account in order to permissibly assume an “aggressive alienation”.
1.4 The limited time of the report does not allow me to mention numerous examples of how the followers of this sect […] commit religiously motivated crimes.
[…] represents the reproduction of an expression of opinion […].
However, it is permissible to evaluate the followers of Jehovah’s Witnesses in this form, since they are indisputably urged, for example, to refuse medically indicated blood transfusions to their children, which may be regarded as the commission of a crime in a legally unobjectionable manner.
1.6 Therefore, all narratives about alleged “harassment” of Jehovah’s Witnesses [in Russia ] are nothing more than a primitive propaganda blast. This information is not true.
The statement constitutes an expression of opinion […].
1.7 The instructions that apply to all other members of the assembly are controlled by other male members of the movement […], the ‘overseers’ who are installed in the regions.
The statement is a true factual allegation, which the plaintiff must accept in the balancing.
It is undisputed that the plaintiff’s (JW) organization provides for so-called “traveling overseers” as “circuit overseers” as well as “district overseers,” each of whom is male […] these supervisors have authority granted by the plaintiff’s organization to perform their supervisor function. To refer to these supervisors appointed by the applicant as “overseers” is thereafter permissible.
1.8 A woman may be reprimanded after a public appearance for an outfit judged indecent by the committee of elders of her congregation. In this case, she will be summoned by three elders who will judge her in the context of a ‘legal committee’.
This statement constitutes a true statement of fact […].
It seems […] conceivable that the committee of elders will find a woman’s dress inappropriate and will assume the existence of a ‘brazen conduct’. This may result in a legal committee proceeding or an admonition by the elders […].
1.11 […] the woman is an accessory who must be acceptable to her husband and the congregation […] She owes him submission as far as sexual relations, because she has ‘no power over her own body’.
The statement presents itself altogether as an expression of opinion […].
There are also sufficient connecting facts for this assessment […] According to the plaintiff’s (JW) further submission, a woman is also required by Jehovah’s Witnesses to recognize her husband as the “head”, i.e. the one called by God to decide disputed questions.
[…] the plaintiff (JW) herself bases her submission on the fact that a woman is supposedly subordinate to her husband under certain circumstances.
[…] it is undisputed that the plaintiff (JW) expresses in her writings that a woman has no power over her body, which would allow sexual acts without or against the will of the woman.
1.22 Reviewing the 2000 annual reports of 2010 Jehovah’s Witnesses, we discover that 1,335,139 members left the movement or became inactive.
The statement does not constitute an untrue statement of fact.
1.23 Every single Witness who leaves the movement for reasons of conscience does so with pain in the knowledge that he will be branded as a heretic […].
The utterance constitutes an expression of opinion […].
According to the understanding of the recipient, a heretic is a person who turns away from the views or teachings of a group (see also to 1.27) […].
According to all this, it is irrelevant in terms of the law of expression that, according to the plaintiff’s (JW) submission, not every Jehovah’s Witness who leaves the organization is regarded as an “apostate”, but – indisputably – at least those who actively turned against the organization after leaving […] The plaintiff’s objection that she does not brand anyone as a “heretic” is not valid. For this term is not subject to a fixed definition. It describes someone who deviates from the official rules of the faith, i.e. an “apostate”.
1.24 In reality, disfellowshipping by the movement occurs for many different reasons […] because of the acceptance of a blood transfusion.
The statement constitutes an expression of opinion.
[…] It follows from the applicant’s (JW) submission that a member is assumed to have left the religious community after accepting a blood transfusion if the member does not “regret” this. This is factually equivalent to disfellowshipping, so that the statement at issue is admissible.
1.25 Let’s speak plainly : the Jehovah’s Witnesses […] a movement […] which disregards fundamental human rights […].
The statement is an expression of opinion, its subject is an overall assessment of the applicant’s (JW) organization.
[…] it results from the writings of the organization of the plaintiff (JW) that “non-witnesses” are counted to the evil world, which are the work of Satan and doomed to destruction. Thus, those people who do not belong to the plaintiff’s faith are classified and degraded as fundamentally “evil.” As already explained, it must also be assumed that, according to the plaintiff’s self-image, women must subordinate themselves to their husbands and may not hold certain positions within the congregation, such as that of an elder. Marriages with non-witnesses are also undisputedly discouraged, and homosexuality and transsexuality are strictly rejected. The fundamental rejection of blood transfusions may also be regarded as a disregard for fundamental human rights, since it can affect a person’s right to life. Furthermore – also indisputably – the right to vote is not respected insofar as Jehovah’s Witnesses are required to remain politically neutral and not to participate in state elections.
To evaluate the Jehovah’s Witnesses as a whole as a movement that disregards fundamental human rights is therefore permissible in the required consideration.
1.26 Therefore, anyone who, according to his own conscience, decides to maintain […] family relations with an disfellowshipped former member will run the risk of being punished himself.
The statement is to be qualified as an expression of opinion with the statement content that a member sees himself exposed to the risk of – not further defined – punishment if he maintains contact with an excluded former member.
[…] It is undisputed that Jehovah’s Witnesses teach that contact with former members, including relatives, should be avoided. Furthermore, conduct contrary to the teachings may be sanctioned by the elders in the form of, for example, an admonition, if improper contact by a member with a relative who is no longer a member of the community is found. Legal action may be taken against the member if he or she maintains “constant spiritual fellowship with the disfellowshipped person” or openly criticizes the disfellowshipping.
Thereafter, it is a permissible assessment to express that any member runs the aforementioned risk of having his or her conduct sanctioned, especially since the member concerned can arguably eliminate such a risk entirely only if he or she maintains no contact whatsoever with an disfellowshipped person, since any contact could potentially be viewed as “improper association.”
1.27 Whether you are disfellowshipped or disassociated on your own, you are a apostate […]
(see to 1.23)
The utterance is an expression of opinion […].
Thus, for the understanding of the statement, the “general” usage referred to by the defendant is to be assumed, that a apostate is someone whose view or action is not in line with the expectation of a certain group […] In addition, it is indisputable that a former member who has left is also considered a “apostate” by the plaintiff under certain circumstances.
1.30 This organization is subversive because it considers the state as an enemy, inspired by the devil, which must be fought until a final conflict […]
1.31 They strive to undermine the loyalty of the citizens of the state, with the result of dissolving the state itself […].
In each case, the statements represent expressions of opinion.
[…] Thus the reader does not assume that the expressed fight against the state must happen by active action, since in this respect an abolition of the state also caused by passive behavior is included by the understanding.
[…] It is undisputed that the organization of the plaintiff (JW) suggests to its members, for example, to behave politically neutral and not to participate in state elections.
More information on legal issues of Jehovah’s Witnesses your find here.