Originally published on Danish Media, TV2 by Jonas HR Moestrup
The Jehovah’s Witnesses branch office in Holbæk does not want to be interviewed, but states that in some cases they go to the authorities.
The recognized religious community of Jehovah’s Witnesses has an internal set of rules where religious leaders can judge on everything from smoking to killing.
This is according to a secret manual for the elders – religious leaders of Jehovah’s Witnesses – that TV 2 has in its possession.
Precisely that fact is a testament that this is a parallel legal community, one of Denmark’s leading experts in religious law believes.
And now the Social Democrats are calling the responsible ministers for consultation:
– For us, it is subordinate to what god you believe in. You must comply with the law and we refuse to accept that children and young people should grow up in social control.
– And therefore, we want the ministers to explain what they are going to do to prevent this phenomenon of a parallel legal system from occurring. And it is both the Minister of the Interior and the Minister for Religious Affairs who must be on the field and who we will convene for consultation on this. It is so vital that we stop it, and when we have a suspicion that something so wrong is happening, we must take political action, says lawyer Trine Bramsen (S).
“You must comply with the law and we refuse to accept that children and young people should grow up in social control”
– Trine Bramsen, legal counsel (S).
Trine Bramsen emphasizes that the politicians must check whether the supervisors are operating as they should be, and whether the authorities have the right tools.
The Minister for Economic and Home Affairs is Simon Emil Ammitzbøll-Bille (LA), and Minister of Culture and Religious Affairs is Mette Bock (LA).
Expert: This is a parallel society
According to the elder’s handbook, once it has been proven the rules have been breached, they set up a judicial committee, which ultimately could mean exclusion for a member from the congregation. This may result in the member’s friends and family severing all contact with the outcast.
Exclusion – or disfellowshipping, as Jehovah’s Witnesses themselves refer to it – must be seen as an expression of love, according to the organization’s own magazine “Watchtower”:
One of Denmark’s leading experts on religious law, Lisbet Christoffersen, professor at Roskilde University, believes that this judicial system is at odds with the individual’s religious freedoms.
“It is not recognizing the individual’s religious freedom”
– Lisbet Christoffersen, professor at Roskilde University.
– Not only for the religious community, but also for the family and all members, one vanishes into thin air. You become non-existent. It is not recognizing the individual’s religious freedom, she says.
Lisbeth Christoffersen believes that in general, there is a parallel legal community, which can be problematic for several reasons.
When one expresses their religious freedom within the religious group, the problem here is that they are taking on a general legislative approach that they should not have, she says.
Lawyer Trine Torp also believes that, like the Social Democratic Party, there is a lack of attention in relation to social coercion and crime within religious communities.
“They must know that, for example, they are required to use the public legal system for offenses”
– Tine Torp, lawyer (Religious Freedom).
– This is about ensuring that the authorities are fully aware of what is happening in these societies. And especially if there are children who are part of these societies.
– One is the moral standards they hold that I think are extreme and dissociate, but what is vital is that they must know that, for example, with regard to offenses, they are required to use the public legal system, says Trine Torp, legal counsel for religious freedom.
Jehovah’s Witnesses would not interview
Jehovah’s Witnesses branch office in Holbæk did not want to be interviewed, but wrote in an email that the elders, for example, always go to the authorities in Denmark when it comes to child abuse.
– It is … dishonest to confuse the secular authorities’ investigation of a crime with the congregation’s internal judicial system. We do not interfere in the secular authorities’ investigation of a case.
According to the Branch Office, since 2003, Jehovah’s Witnesses in Denmark have advised the elders that all child abuse charges must be reported to the authorities.
– We have done this consistently, and if appropriate, we can provide documents to the authorities.
The branch office further writes that if a person is accused of child abuse, the elders will investigate in harmony with the Bible’s guidance.
If you ask Trine Bramsen, however, it is not a defense that they also comply with Danish legislation:
– We have one legal system in Denmark, and that is what applies. We do not permit parallel penalties. Therefore, we must make sure to fight it, and then I think it is very serious when children and young people grow up in social control and cannot live the life they want, she says.