A religious group should never subject apostate members to a “shunning policy”, often with very damaging consequences for the family ties of the people involved. In connection with this, the court of first instance in Ghent sentenced the non-profit organization Christian Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses to a fine of 96,000 euros for inciting discrimination and hatred against former members.
Originally published by Unia on March 16, 2021
“This is a first,” says Els Keytsman, director of Unia. “It is the first time that this non-profit organization has been criminally convicted. Not so much the sanction, but the recognition of the malpractice of the association is important in this case. The non-profit organization targets a specific group and individual persons, which it completely isolates socially and seriously damages them psychologically. We hope this conviction is an important signal. It is a statement of principle. It underlines the importance of fundamental rights for members, such as the fundamental right to freedom of religion, the right to change faith, and the right to freedom of expression, which must be respected ”. Unia will receive 500 euros in damages and 240 euros in legal proceedings.
The non-profit organization, Christian Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, enforced a shunning policy towards those who had left the religious group. This course of events has particularly negative consequences for the people involved. The ball started rolling in 2015. Unia filed a simple complaint with the East Flanders Public Prosecutor’s Office, Ghent department, and supported 16 individual victims who took their own name as civil party in this case.
Not an isolated case
Since the lawsuit began, Unia has received reports about the practices of Jehovah’s Witnesses that are inconsistent with the Anti-Discrimination Act.
A 2015 survey 2015 of 1,055 former Jehovah’s Witnesses in the US, Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and Germany found that people who want to leave this religious group are often completely shunned by the other believers. As many as 65% of those surveyed said that the shunning policy that was enforced had completely severed or at least seriously damaged their family ties. About three-quarters of former Jehovah’s Witnesses had fallen victim to “shunning,” a formal decision by the religious group to avoid any interaction.
In 90% of cases, those involved were told they were being ignored because they no longer belonged to the religious group. And more than 70% of families deliberately cut ties with the disfellowshipped person because they were told to do so by the “Governing Body”. In 59% of cases, family members admitted that the “apostate” was disfellowshipped in the hope that he or she would return to Jehovah’s Witnesses.