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Joseph Rutherford to be the second leader the the the Jehovah"s Witnesses. Under Rutherford, the movement created its very own legal department to defend members that were persecuted for their speech and faith. Maybe no spiritual sect has had actually a greater influence relative to its dimension on expanding the first Amendment totally free exercise of religious beliefs than has actually the Jehovah’s Witnesses. (This 1928 photograph of Rutherford appeared in the 1928 Messenger, via Wikimedia Commons, windy domain.)


Perhaps no spiritual sect has had actually a greater influence relative to its size on broadening the very first Amendment complimentary exercise of faith than has the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Apart from their many legal battles, Jehovah’s Witnesses avoid call with the state. They perform not lobby, vote, or otherwise try to influence public policy.

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Jehovah"s Witness team was started in the 1870s

Charles Russell Taze founded the team in Pittsburgh in the 1870s. The organization contained the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, which published literature around the Bible, and also “Bible examine circles,” which devoted themselves to intense study of the group’s literature and also to its sale and distribution door-to-door and on the streets.

The movement’s adherents initially referred to as themselves holy bible Students till 1931, as soon as they took the name Jehovah’s Witnesses.Jehovah is a transliteration that the letters YHWH, i m sorry were offered in location of the unspeakable surname for God in the Old Testament. The group shares similarities with Christian denominations, although they execute not acknowledge Christ as divine, rather placing that in one exalted position.

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The above Watchtower sign is seen on the roof the the people headquarters the the Jehovah"s Witnesses in Brooklyn. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, with permission indigenous The connected Press)

In 1900 the Watchtower society headquarters moved to its present location in Brooklyn, new York.

Beginning in 1916 under the movement’s second leader, Joseph F. Rutherford, a lawyer indigenous Missouri, main control over the faithful to be tightened, and also the contemporary movement began to take shape. Local groups developed Kingdom Halls for your meetings and also elaborate reporting solution were arisen to enable the central leadership to save abreast of and also exercise manage over local activities. Rutherford held solid and unpopular views, consisting of hatred that capitalism and also disdain of other clergy.

Under Rutherford, the Jehovah’s Witnesses occurred their own legal department to protect members who required to the streets to proclaim their faith and who can find themselves in cases arousing conflict. They also drafted intricate legal plans and instructed your followers on just how to respond when arrested and also how to behave in court. The American civil Liberties Union aided Witnesses in some significant cases.

Jehovah"s Witnesses arrested under Sedition Act

The Witnesses ran afoul the the legislation as early as people War I due to the fact that of your pacifist stance and also their refuse to take oaths. Part were arrested under the Sedition act of 1918, “the only time in American background when practically all the leaders of a denomination to be in jail” (Conkin 1997: 152).

The Witnesses likewise went come court to safeguard their best under the cost-free exercise clause to refuse blood transfusions based on their religious beliefs. They have won legitimate victories protecting the civil liberties of adult in this regard, but the courts have sided through compelling state understanding where youngsters are involved.

A Jehovah’s Witness provided the occasion for the supreme Court’s “fighting words” judgment in Chaplinsky v. Brand-new Hampshire (1942), in i m sorry the Court unanimously determined that Walter Chaplinsky’s abusive, face-to-face name-calling, aimed at a city marshal, would certainly likely cause the “average person” come retaliate, were not vital to reasonable discourse, and also thus were not defended speech.

Because Witnesses were instructed to stay courteous in their encounters through the police, however, this case seems rather of an aberration and also not truly a defining component of the Witnesses’ battle for their complimentary exercise rights.

Challenges come door-to-door evangelizing led to 14 first Amendment victories

Door-to-door and street evangelizing and saluting the flag space by much the two areas in i beg your pardon the Jehovah’s Witnesses have actually made their many profound donation to shaping interpretations the the free exercise and totally free speech clauses.

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This is a general view at Yankee Stadium, looking from outfield towards homeplate, together an estimated crowd the 91,652 members the Jehovah"s Witnesses religious sect conference at the last session that the eight-day convention in new York City, July 26, 1953. (AP Photo, through permission from The associated Press.)

The Witnesses’ first important legal success protecting their layout of evangelism came in Lovell v. City the Griffin (1938), inwhich the Witnesses challenged the wide discretionary strength of a city manager in Georgia to decide who might hand the end printed materials on the streets. The Court discovered that in the lack of clear standards and also procedures in deciding who to license, this was a violation of the currently incorporated totally free speech i of the first Amendment.

The Witnesses winner a major legal success in Cantwell v. Connecticut (1940), a landmark case involving the discretionary power of federal government officials to concern permits because that solicitation and a fee of mental the tranquility by playing an inflammatory anti-Catholic message on a document player after an initial asking permission the a passer-by.

The Court upheld the Witnesses top top both counts. This ruling integrated the free exercise clause of the very first Amendment into the Fourteenth modification to do the former applicable come the states. The situation expanded the principle of totally free exercise in its tip that although the state can regulate actions performed in the surname of religion, the strength to regulate must be directly confined to protect against whenever possible weakening a person’s religious freedom.

Between 1939 and 1950, the Witnesses won 14 of 19 supreme Court situations involving the circulation of literature and permit requirements.

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The Jehovah’s Witnesses have due to the fact that had fewer encounters the the sort that led castle to seek relief in ~ the can be fried Court level, yet they retain their legal department. In this photo, volunteer Jehovah"s Witnesses, both tradesmen and also laymen, job-related on the roof of what will soon become a brand-new Kingdom room for because that the Mid Wyoming and Grand flow congregations Friday, Dec. 1, 1995, in Detroit. Numerous Jehovah"s Witnesses from Michigan, Ohio and Indiana came with each other this weekend to take component in a "Quick-Build Kingdom hall Project," where a brand-new Kingdom hall is construct by volunteers in 3 days. Due to the fact that 1983, 1,444 brand-new kingdom halls have been constructed this method nationwide.(AP Photo/Linda Radin)

Refusal come salute flag put Jehovah"s Witnesses at odds with schools

The Jehovah’s Witnesses think that saluting flags, including that of the united States, is tantamount to worshipping a graven image.

They were not the first group to withstand mandatory recitation of the Pledge the Allegiance in publicly schools, yet their resistance was the most widespread, coordinated, and also uncompromising. The was also successful.

In 1935 elementary school and an additional schools throughout the country began expelling Jehovah’s Witnesses for your refusal come salute the flag. This actions come at a time when cultivation numbers of says were combine the pledge into the institution day and, coincidentally, at the same time the Witnesses to be being persecuted in Germany for refusing to provide the “Heil Hitler” salute forced by the national Socialist government.

Beatings, whippings, and other violence accompanied some expulsions in the joined States, frequently with the blessing or authorized of local regulation enforcement officials.

The Witnesses’ at an early stage legal efforts to attain relief native the courts failed.

Judges refused to act their religious beliefs seriously and held that the schools had actually the best to demand patriotism, including respect because that the flag, from your students.

The supreme Court agreed to hear a situation from Minersville, Pennsylvania, including a 12-year-old, Lillian Gobitas (a court clerk’s error readjusted the family’s last name to “Gobitis”), who had been punished because that refusing to salute the flag return no law compelled it in ~ the time.

The Gobitas family won their instance in the reduced courts, yet the can be fried Court ruled versus them, 8-1. The bulk opinion in Minersville college District v. Gobitis (1940) stressed the importance of empowering legislatures to promote unity in the face of the growing threat the Germany. In a lone dissent, righteousness Harlan Fiske stone countered by drawing a distinction between voluntary and also compulsory expression of loyalty and questioned even if it is compelling students to hurt their spiritual convictions would develop the wanted result.

Violence versus the Jehovah’s Witnesses, consisting of beatings, destruction of Kingdom Halls, and also at least one castration, escalated after ~ the Gobitis decision.

The American Legion, in particular, was linked to much more than 100 vigilante episodes. Some newspaper editor and religious and nationwide leaders condemned the violence and criticized the Court’s function in inadvertently instigating it.

Supreme Court reverses course on flag salute

In 1942 judge Hugo L. Black, william O. Douglas, and Francis W. Murphy from the Gobitis majority announced a change of love in Jones v. City of Opelika. Aided through the existence of two new justices, they overturned Gobitis in West Virginia State board of education and learning v. Barnette (1943) through a 6-3 vote.

Justice Robert H. Jackson’s bulk opinion extended past the spiritual scruples that the Witnesses to hold that nobody for every little thing reason could be compelled to salute the flag: “If over there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, the is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters the opinion orforce citizens come confess by word or action their faith therein.”

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The Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that saluting flags, consisting of that that the unified States, is tantamount come worshipping a graven image. They were no the very first group to withstand mandatory recitation the the Pledge of Allegiance in windy schools, however their resistance to be the most widespread, coordinated, and also uncompromising. That was additionally successful. In this photo, a 6th grade course in P.S. 116 at 33rd street in Manhattan, salutes the flag, Oct. 11, 1957. (AP Photo, offered with permission native the linked Press)

Jehovah"s Witnesses tho retain their legal department

The Jehovah’s Witnesses have because had under encounters that the sort that led lock to seek relief at the can be fried Court level, yet they retain their legal department.

In a fairly recent case, the high court ruled 8-1 in their favor in Watchtower Bible and also Tract culture v. Village of Stratton (2002), which involved permits because that canvassing. In this instance, Stratton, Ohio, compelled canvassers walk to private residences to an initial obtain a totally free permit by filling the end a rather facility form (that consisted of listing every the premises to it is in visited), to lug the permit v them as they canvassed, and also to respect the wishes of resident that had filed a “no solicitation” form and post a “no solicitation” sign. (The Witnesses did not an obstacle this critical condition.)

Justice john Paul Stevens, writing for the Court, the evaluation previous witness cases and framed this decision as a continuation of the Court’s commitment come protecting the capacity of “little people” to encourage their causes by way affordable come them, the anonymity that those who for assorted reasons walk not want their names linked to the causes they promoted, the capability to communicate in spontaneous speech that would be hindered through the permit process, and also the ideas of those spiritual persons, such together the Witnesses, that feel that their meeting to carry out the will of a higher power prohibits them native seeking the permission of a petty official.

Chief Justice wilhelm H. Rehnquist in his dissent turned the tables, making the Witnesses, v their team the lawyers, the “heavy” and recasting the 278 inhabitants of Stratton as the “little people” search privacy and also protection indigenous frauds and also criminals.

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This short article was initially published in 2009.Jane G. Rainey is a professor emeritus of political scientific research at eastern Kentucky University. She specialization in politics and also religion in the joined States. She speak to civic and also church groups on an initial Amendment establishment clause issues and the role of churches and also faith-based teams in influencing public policy.