Fædrelandsvennen – 13th June 2018 – Page 5
- Det Jehovas vitner gjør, er langt ut over rimelighetens grenser – please note that the original is behind a paywall
Fædrelandsvennen (Norway), Wednesday, June 13, 2018 – page 5
It says one of the Nordic region’s foremost experts on the relationship between Law and Religion, Lisbet Christoffersen.
Lisbet Christoffersen specializes in church law and is professor at Roskilde University in Denmark. She holds a doctorate in law and also works with systematic theology. Up to now, she has not had the opportunity to read the elders book ‘Shepherds the Flock of God’ that deals with Jehovah’s Witnesses’ descriptions of how the internal Judicial Committees will work.
Fædrelandsvennen got the book leaked from sources in the community after we wrote about the handling of a case where a 87-year-old elder ended up in jail after abusing a child sexually.
Christofferse has now read the Elders Book, and she reacts to the stories that Fædrelandsvennen mentioned last Friday, where the religious community in internal judicial committee has handled cases of gross family violence and a divorce after assault prosecutions
“What Jehovah’s Witnesses do is far beyond the limits of reason,” she said.
But if you take a step back then all faiths have a kind of own rules. It writes Christoffersen and her co-authors about the anthology “Law & Religion in the 21st Century – Nordic Perspectives”.
“Even a sports club has its own rules and articles of association. And an international community of faith, like an international sports organization, will have rules that cross country borders. That is a matter of course. On the other hand, we have a tendency in the Nordic countries to say that we do not want parallel legal systems. The question is when these considerations conflict with each other,” she says.
Christoffersen indicates that such internal rules have several purposes. One tries to define an organization and ensure its ideology, as well as discipline members and employees.
“Many will say that as long as you are free to leave an organization whenever you want, there are no problems with having strict rules in a community of faith. But your case of Jehovah’s Witnesses raises a number of fundamental legal and ethical questions.”
They do not imprisonment and fines, is it still problematic?
“Yes. The consequences of exclusion with subsequent isolation are a violent punishment. They involve too many to be completely cut off from their own family. I would argue it is an extreme form of punishment. But I’m not sure what measures society has to intervene,” says the professor.
The clear call for members not to use police and justice, she knows again from the United States.
“This is found in American religious law. I hope we never get such a case in Norway, but it can happen soon,” she says.
She refers to the so-called Hosanna-Tabor ruling from the US Supreme Court. It was about a woman in Iowa who was employed as a teacher at the school of a Lutheran church. When she got ill, the school picked up a crew. And when she recovered, she did not get back to work. Attempts to reclaim the job with a tutelage led her to be dismissed for failing to follow the church’s order not to go against each other.
The Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the religious community had the right to dismiss its employees from using the judiciary in such matters. She was subject to an exception to rules concerning priests, as she as a teacher also led the children in the morning prayer.
“I fear we will have such issues in the Nordic countries, perhaps linked to the Swedish Church. When large faith communities so far naturally have been regulated by the community’s common rules, establishing a form of own jurisdiction, one must be extra careful in ensuring the internal rules and ensuring access to the community’s common courts,” Christoffersen says.
Sometimes there is a conflict between the religious community’s need for autonomy and society’s need for a legal system that guarantees all citizens’ rights.
Christoffersen mentions things back in time, where the Catholic Church argued with the duty of secrecy around the soul to cover things that are punishable in society.
“It’s not possible, because then you undermine the institutions of society,” she says.
“The community must investigate and judge by universal laws and regulations. Criminal law is essential here. Some of the examples you write about how Jehovah’s Witnesses have handled goes beyond the limits of what is to be handled internally and belongs to criminal law. That’s the problem,” she says.
But that’s not all.
“We would like to allow self-determination. But there should be certain expectations of openness and transparency. We must be able to review the rules and do not let this be contained in secret books. Those who are asked for a court committee should have insight into the process and the documents. And you should be able to meet with a defender. In Jehovah’s Witnesses this lacks the defense and there is no transparency.”
She says all religious communities must think about how they can safeguard such principles when developing their own regulation policies.
“Any sports club or company must think about the same when it comes to regulating their own business. The special thing here is that they put God’s name into the judgement when deciding his sentence. It requires extra care and thoughtfulness, so it doesn’t turn into abuse of power from the leaders.”
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