On March 16, the Court of First Instance in Ghent ruled against the “Christian Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses” in Belgium with regard to the application of the biblical norm of ceasing or limiting contacts with an excommunicated person or having made the decision to voluntarily withdraw from the group. For the first time since the 16th century, a public institution in Western Europe makes it punishable by law to read and follow what the Bible teaches. In a broad sense, this decision constitutes an infringement of the fundamental right of an individual or an organization to decide who he or she wants to meet with.
In addition, this decision of March 16, 2021 goes against the decisions taken by the Belgian Courts of Appeal and by the Court of Cassation on the same subject. On January 10, 2012, the Mons Court of Appeal dismissed the complaint of discrimination against Jehovah’s Witnesses, stating that a religion can determine the rules of conduct. On November 5, 2018, the Brussels Court of Appeal relied on the case law of the European Court of Human Rights and confirmed that a religion is free to determine the rules of conduct and that each member has the right to right to decide to limit contact with a former member. On February 7, 2019, this position was confirmed by the Court of Cassation.
The decision of the Ghent court is a flagrant violation of European laws, repeatedly endorsed by the European Court of Human Rights. On several occasions, the latter has called Jehovah’s Witnesses a “known religion” and stresses that “it is a general hallmark of several religions to determine doctrinal principles of behavior which its members conform to in their private lives.” (Jehovah’s Witnesses of Moscow v. Russia, no 302/02 && 118, 10 June 2010)
Referring to these legally founded principles, Prof. Holly Folk, professor at Western Washington University said, “It is not for government to interfere with decisions made by well-informed adults. Indeed, reality shows that many established religions apply the rule of no longer maintaining close ties with those who have denied their faith.”
Jehovah’s Witnesses encourage each other to apply Bible principles in their daily lives and to live peaceful lives with all humans. They reject all forms of hatred, class distinction, racism, discrimination and violence. They are committed to living by the two greatest biblical commandments: to love God and to love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12: 28-31).
We will analyze the different legal steps to be taken.