Supreme Court cases involving Jehovah's Witnesses by country
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Numerous cases involving Jehovah's Witnesses have been heard by Supreme Courts throughout the world. The cases revolve around three main subjects:
- practice of their religion,
- displays of patriotism and military service, and
- blood transfusions.
The Supreme Courts of many states have established the rights of Jehovah's Witnesses and other faiths to engage in the practice of evangelism.
On July 11, 2011, the Grand Chamber issued a ruling for Bayatyan v. Armenia; Armenia was found to be in violation of ECHR Article 9 (right to freedom of religion or belief) in the conviction of Mr. Vahan Bayatyan, a Jehovah's Witness and Armenian national, for draft evasion.
The Supreme Court of Canada has made a number of important decisions concerning Jehovah's Witnesses. These include laws that affected activities of Jehovah's Witnesses in the 1950s and more recent cases dealing with whether Witness parents had the right to decide what medical treatment was in the best interest of their children based on their faith.
On November 15, 1955 (Chaput v Romain  S.C.R. 834), one of Jehovah's Witnesses successfully brought action against police officers for disrupting a religious meeting and seizing articles. The entry and the seizure were made without a warrant. No charge was laid against any of the participants including the appellant and the items seized were not returned.
On January 27, 1959, the Supreme Court of Canada found that Maurice Duplessis, the premier of Quebec, wrongfully caused the revocation of Frank Roncarelli's liquor licence. Roncarelli, one of Jehovah's Witnesses, was a restaurant owner in Montreal who offered bail security for members of his faith arrested by the Municipality. The Witnesses were frequently arrested for distributing magazines without the necessary permits under a city by-law. The Chief Prosecutor of the city, Oscar Gagnon, overwhelmed by the number of Witnesses being arrested and then released as a result of Roncarelli's intervention, contacted the Premier who spoke to Edouard Archambault, Chairman of the Quebec Liquor Commission. Extensive testimony showed the government actors believed Roncarelli was disrupting the court system, causing civil disorder, and was therefore not entitled to the liquor licence.
On June 26, 2009, the Supreme Court of Canada issued a 6-1 decision saying courts must take into account the maturity and decision-making capacity of minors before ruling on enforced medical treatment. The case involved a young Jehovah's Witness, identified only as A.C., who was admitted to a hospital in Winnipeg with internal bleeding as a complication of Crohn's Disease. Doctors sought a blood transfusion, but A.C. and her parents refused on religious grounds; child welfare officials moved to take her into care and a court ordered that she be given the transfusion. The judge said he was satisfied she was competent, but since she was under 16 the judge felt that her competence was immaterial to existing law. Justice Rosalie Abella wrote for the majority, "A young person is entitled to a degree of decisional autonomy commensurate with his or her maturity."
On October 5, 2004, the Court of Cassation—the highest court in France for cases outside of administrative law—rejected the Witnesses' recourse against taxation at 60% of the value of some of their contributions, which the fiscal services assimilated to a legal category of donations close to that of inheritance and subject to the same taxes between non-parents. The court ruled that the tax administration could legally tax the corporation used by Jehovah's Witnesses if they received donations in the form of dons gratuits and they were not recognized as associations cultuelles.
On June 30, 2011, the European Court of Human Rights found France to be guilty in violation of ECHR Article 9 (religious freedom) in regards to the 60% tax levied on all donations received from 1993-1996. The Court found that the tax assessment represented a cut in the association's operating resources sufficient to interfere with the free exercise of its members' religion in practical terms. By 2011, the Government of France sought the Association to pay a sum of 58 million Euros. A representative of Jehovah's Witnesses in France stated that "no other major religion in France was subjected to this tax" and that "the Court saw that this was not a legitimate effort to collect revenue, but rather an attempt to use taxation as a means of restricting the worship of Jehovah's Witnesses."
In July 1985, in the state of Kerala, some of the Jehovah's Witnesses' children were expelled from school under the instructions of Deputy Inspector of Schools for having refused to sing the national anthem, Jana Gana Mana. A parent, V. J. Emmanuel, appealed to the Supreme Court of India for legal remedy. On August 11, 1986, the Supreme Court overruled the Kerala High Court, and directed the respondent authorities to re-admit the children into the school. The decision went on to add, "Our tradition teaches tolerance, our philosophy teaches tolerance, our Constitution practices tolerance, let us not dilute it".
In 1998, The Watchtower reported that, "On March 8, 1996, the Supreme Court of Japan [ruled that] ... Kobe Municipal Industrial Technical College violated the law by expelling Kunihito Kobayashi for his refusal to participate in martial arts training."[non-primary source needed]
According to Awake!, "Misae Takeda, a Jehovah's Witness, was given [a] blood transfusion in 1992, while still under sedation following surgery to remove a malignant tumor of the liver." On February 29, 2000, "the four judges of the Supreme Court unanimously decided that doctors were at fault because they failed to explain that they might give her a blood transfusion if deemed necessary during the operation, thus depriving her of the right to decide whether to accept the operation or not."
In 1993, the Supreme Court of the Philippines held that exemption may be accorded to Jehovah's Witnesses with regard to the observance of the flag ceremony out of respect for their religious beliefs.
In 1995 and 1996, the Supreme Court of the Philippines granted an exception to laws regarding marriage to a practicing Jehovah's Witness because enforcement of those laws would have inhibited free exercise of religious beliefs.
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After the fall of the communist bloc of nations in Eastern Europe and Asia, Jehovah's Witnesses were allowed to worship freely in those nations for the first time since World War II. However, in recent years political resistance to minority religions has prompted several court cases in the Moscow courts that have led to the denial of registration for Jehovah's Witnesses in the Moscow district. Jehovah's Witnesses won a favorable verdict in the European Court of Human Rights on June 10, 2010 in the case of Jehovah's Witnesses of Moscow v Russia.
In the United States, numerous cases involving Jehovah's Witnesses are now landmark decisions of First Amendment law. In all, Jehovah's Witnesses brought 23 separate First Amendment actions before the U.S. Supreme Court between 1938 and 1946. Supreme Court Justice Harlan Fiske Stone once quipped, "I think the Jehovah's Witnesses ought to have an endowment in view of the aid which they give in solving the legal problems of civil liberties."
The most important U.S. Supreme Court legal victory won by the Witnesses was in the case West Virginia State Board of Education vs. Barnette (1943), in which the court ruled that school children could not be forced to pledge allegiance to or salute the U.S. flag. The Barnette decision overturned an earlier case, Minersville School District vs. Gobitis (1940), in which the court had held that Witnesses could be forced against their will to pay homage to the flag.
The fighting words doctrine was established by Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire (1942). In that case, one of Jehovah's Witnesses had reportedly told a New Hampshire town marshal who was attempting to prevent him from preaching "You are a damned racketeer" and "a damned fascist" and was arrested. The court upheld the arrest, thus establishing that "insulting or 'fighting words', those that by their very utterance inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace" are among the "well-defined and narrowly limited classes of speech [which] the prevention and punishment of...have never been thought to raise any constitutional problem."
On January 15, 1951, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the decision of a lower court in convicting two Jehovah's Witnesses lecturers of disorderly conduct of conducting public speeches in a city park of Harford County in Maryland without permits. The Supreme Court stated that the initial conviction was based on the lack of permits that were unconstitutionally denied, therefore convictions were not able to stand. The initial conviction was declined for review by the Maryland Court of Appeals under its normal appellate power, and further declined to take the case on certiorari, stating that the issues were not "matters of public interest" which made it desirable to review. Chief Justice Fred Vinson delivered the opinion of the Court, stating that rarely has any case been before this Court which shows so clearly an unwarranted discrimination in a refusal to issue such a license. It is true that the City Council held a hearing at which it considered the application. But we have searched the record in vain to discover any valid basis for the refusal.
On March 9, 1953, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned and remanded the Supreme Court of Rhode Island's affirmation of the conviction of an Ordained Minister of Jehovah's Witnesses for a violation of holding a religious meeting in a city park of Pawtucket. The opinion of the court was that a religious service of Jehovah's Witnesses was treated differently from a religious service of other sects. That amounts to the state preferring some religious groups over this one. The court stated that the city had not prohibited church services in the park as Catholics could hold mass in the same park and Protestants could conduct their church services there without violating the ordinance.
In a more recent case, Jehovah's Witnesses refused to get government permits to preach door-to-door in Stratton, Ohio. In 2002, the case was heard in the U.S. Supreme Court (Watchtower Society v. Village of Stratton — 536 U.S. 150 (2002)). The Court ruled in favor of Jehovah's Witnesses, holding that making it a misdemeanor (to engage in door-to-door advocacy without first registering with the mayor and receiving a permit) violates the first Amendment as it applies to religious proselytizing, anonymous political speech, and the distribution of handbills.
- “Jehovah’s Witnesses – Proclaimers of God’s Kingdom” –1993, chap. 30 pp. 679-701 | “Defending and Legally Establishing the Good News” | . © Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania
- Edmonton Sun, 2009-06-27
- The Canadian Press, 2009-06-26
- Jehovah's Witnesses and governments
- "German high court defends rights of religious minorities" (Press release). Jehovah's Witnesses; Office of Public Information. December 19, 2000. Retrieved 2012-08-21.
- "Federal Administrative Court grants long-awaited recognition to Jehovah's Witnesses in Germany" (Press release). Jehovah's Witnesses; Office of Public Information. February 17, 2006. Retrieved 2006-12-31.
- "Jehovah's Witnesses Granted Legal Status". Deutsche Welle. March 25, 2005. Retrieved 2006-12-31.
- Decision of the German Federal Constitutional Court:  BVerfG, 1 BvR 618/93 vom 2.8.2001
- "Bijoe Emmanuel & Ors V. State of Kerala & Ors  INSC 167". indiankanoon.org. August 11, 1986. Retrieved 2011-03-31.
- "Legally Protecting the Good News". The Watchtower. December 1, 1998. p. 22.
- Supreme Court of Japan Rules in Favor of Witness. Access date: April 10, 2014.
- "1993 RP Supreme Court ruling in Roel Ebralinag, et al. vs. Superintendent of Schools of Cebu". March 1, 1993.
- "2003 RP Supreme Court ruling in Estrada vs. Escritor". August 4, 2003. Retrieved 2006-12-31.
- "2006 RP Supreme Court ruling in Estrada vs. Escritor". June 22, 2006. Retrieved 2006-12-31.
- Criminal charge against Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia continues, JW-Media.org (Jehovah's Witnesses Official Media Web Site)]
- 29 Forum 18.org, 2004-03-29
- ECHR exonerates Moscow Community of Jehovah’s Witnesses, JW-Media.org (Jehovah's Witnesses Official Media Web Site)]
- Melvin I. Urofsky (2002). Religious freedom: rights and liberties under the law. ABC-CLIO. p. 140. ISBN 978-1-57607-312-4.; citing Shawn Francis Peters (2002) . Judging Jehovah's Witnesses: Religious Persecution and the Dawn of the Rights Revolution (Reprint ed.). University Press of Kansas. p. 186. ISBN 978-0-7006-1182-9.