Hayden C. Covington
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Hayden Cooper Covington (January 19, 1911 – November 21, 1978) was legal counsel for the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society during one of its most difficult periods in the mid-20th century. Hayden Covington has a record 37 victories in the United States Supreme Court, the most since the Judiciary Act of 1869 which fixed the Supreme Court of the United States to 9 Justices. He argued numerous cases before the United States Supreme Court on behalf of Jehovah’s Witnesses in defense of their religious freedoms, winning most of them. In 1967, he famously defended then world heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali in his legal battle against the draft during the Vietnam War.
An able student, Covington worked his way through law school in San Antonio, successfully passing the Texas bar exam, with an impressively high score, one year before graduation. He was admitted to the Texas Bar in 1933.
Covington was attracted to the teachings of Jehovah's Witnesses and impressed by the dedication and character of the members, defending several of them in Texas courts prior to formally joining the group himself. His first exposure to their teachings was through listening to the broadcast sermons of Watch Tower Society President Joseph F. Rutherford on radio station KTSA in San Antonio.
Word of Covington's successes in defending the Witnesses reached the New York headquarters of Jehovah's Witnesses, and he was asked by President Rutherford to join him in representing the Society on a case before the U.S. Supreme Court. He was then invited to join headquarters staff as general counsel in 1939, succeeding Olin R. Moyle.
|“||I suppose [Connecticut householders] had some right of religious freedom themselves, did they not? I suppose they have the right to be left alone and not to be attacked with these scurrilous denunciations of their most cherished faith. What have you to say to that?||”|
When "Judge" Rutherford died in January 1942, his aggressive litigation policy was carried on by Covington. Honoring Rutherford's deathbed wishes, Hayden Covington was even elected Vice-President of the Watch Tower Society succeeding the newly elected President, Nathan H. Knorr, despite having been a Jehovah's Witnesses for only five years. Throughout most of its history, appointment to the board of directors of the Watch Tower Society, and thus by implication to the "Governing Body" of Jehovah's Witnesses, has been limited to those professing to be of the "anointed class" within the group; the "spirit begotten" sons of God who would "rule as Kings" in heaven with Christ. To date, the one exception has been Hayden C. Covington. A subsequent policy change resulted in Covington's resignation from the Vice Presidency and departure from the board in 1945, although remaining on staff as legal counsel.
In the following years, Hayden Covington came to be hailed as one of the greatest civil liberties attorneys in American history. During his tenure as the head of the Watch Tower Society's Legal Department, Covington is said to have presented 111 petitions and appeals to the Supreme Court; he won well above 80% of the 44 cases he brought before the Court. The cases dealt with issues ranging from compulsory flag-salute statutes, to street preaching, to door-to-door literature distribution. He eventually resigned as Head of the Watch Tower Society's Legal Department.
Cases argued before the Supreme Court
- Cantwell v. Connecticut, 310 U.S. 296 (1940)
- Cox v. New Hampshire, 312 U.S. 569 (1941)
- Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire, 315 U.S. 568 (1942)
- West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624 (1943)
- Jones v. City of Opelika, 319 U.S. 103 (1943)
- Martin v. City of Struthers, 319 U.S. 141(1943)
- Jamison v. State of Texas, 318 U.S. 413 (1943)
- Murdock v. Pennsylvania, 319 U.S. 105 (1943)
- Taylor v. State of Mississippi, 319 U.S. 583 (1943)
- Largent v. Texas, 318 U.S. 418 (1943)
- Follett v. Town of McCormick, 321 U.S. 573 (1944)
- Marsh v. Alabama, 326 U.S. 501 (1946)
- Tucker v. Texas, 326 U.S. 517 (1946)
- Saia v. New York, 334 U.S. 558 (1948)
- Niemotko v. Maryland, 340 U.S. 268 (1951)
- Fowler v. Rhode Island, 345 U.S. 67 (1953)
- Poulos v. New Hampshire, 345 U.S. 395 (1953)
Meeting with U.S. President Harry Truman
In its chapter on Covington, Great American lawyers: An Encyclopedia relates:
Covington reported one meeting in which he and Knorr met with President Harry Truman about a pardon for a Witness who had been convicted of evading the draft. Covington claimed that Truman cursed and claimed to have no use "for that SOB who didn't want to die for his country in time of war."
That meeting apparently occurred on Friday, September 6, 1946. President Truman eventually did pardon 136 Jehovah's Witnesses who had been convicted in draft cases. Later, on October 12, 1951, Truman reportedly accepted the offered Jehovah's Witnesses publication What Has Religion Done for Mankind?.
Defense of Muhammad Ali
Later in his career, in 1966 and 1967, Covington assisted prize-fighter Muhammad Ali in obtaining a draft exemption as a Muslim minister. What may have brought him to the attention of Muhammad Ali was his extensive experience with the U.S. Selective Service System and draft boards across the nation, where he had realized many successes while representing Jehovah's Witnesses. Covington sued Ali to recover $247,000 in legal fees.
- 'Faith On The March'. A.H. Macmillan, Prentice-Hall, Inc. 1957.
- "How the Governing Body Differs From a Legal Corporation", The Watchtower, January 15, 2001, page 28, "ANNUAL meetings of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania have been held since January of 1885. When the ingathering of anointed Christians was underway in the late 19th century, the directors and officers of this corporation had the heavenly hope. In fact, this has almost always been the case. There was one exception. In 1940, Hayden C. Covington—then the Society’s legal counsel and one of the “other sheep,” with the earthly hope—was elected a director of the Society. (John 10:16) He served as the Society’s vice president from 1942 to 1945. At that time, Brother Covington stepped aside as a director to comply with what then seemed to be Jehovah’s will—that all directors and officers of the Pennsylvania corporation be anointed Christians. Lyman A. Swingle replaced Hayden C. Covington on the board of directors, and Frederick W. Franz was elected vice president. Why did Jehovah’s servants believe that all the directors and officers of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania should be anointed Christians? Because at the time, the board of directors and officers of the Pennsylvania corporation were closely identified with the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses, which has always been made up entirely of spirit-anointed men.
- "Education for the Theocratic Ministry Advanced", The Watchtower, November 1, 1955, page 650, "On September 24, 1945, H. C. Covington graciously declined to serve further as a member of the board of directors and as vice-president of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, not as an evasion of responsibilities, but rather as an effort to comply with what appeared to be the Lord’s will for all the members of the directorate and the officers to be of the anointed ones [with a heavenly hope], since his hope was [earthly as] that of one of the “other sheep.” ...Covington has continued to head the Society’s legal department"
- "Declaring the Good News Without Letup (1942-1975)", Jehovah's Witnesses - Proclaimers of God's Kingdom, page 91, "In September 1945, Brother Covington graciously declined to serve further as vice president of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society (of Pennsylvania), explaining that he wished to comply with what was then understood to be Jehovah’s will for all members of the directorate and officers—that they be spirit-anointed Christians, whereas he professed to be one of the “other sheep.”
- "Covington, Hayden C." by John R. Vile, Great American Lawyers: An Encyclopedia, Volume 1, page 138
- "United States of America", 1975 Yearbook of Jehovah's Witnesses, page 207, "Friday, September 6, 1946, ...Truman listened intently as the Society’s lawyer [apparently Covington] developed the features of the resolution to the point where executive clemency was requested. Then, he recalls, “Truman broke in with a flare of emotion and said: ‘I don’t have any use for a S—O—B that won’t fight for his country...” ...the president thereafter gave his attention to the Society’s attorney “as he concluded the request for the release of Jehovah’s witnesses being held in prison under the Selective Service Act. Truman then said that he would discuss it with the Attorney General.” In time, President Truman appointed his Amnesty Board. They reviewed thousands of court records and draft board files, recommending some pardons. But on December 23, 1947, Truman pardoned only 136 Witnesses"
- "Climax of Clean Worship Assemblies at Washington", The Watchtower, March 15, 1952, page 187
- Muhammad Ali: A Biography by Anthony O. Edmonds, Greenwood Publishing Group, 2006, page 86