A House majority is against the practice of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The parties suspect that the religious community is blackmailing people who want to leave the faith.
Originally published in Dutch on Pointer by J Koot on March 18, 2022.
Jehovah’s Witnesses, known for their members going doo-to-door bringing the faith, have strict rules against apostates. If someone leaves their faith community, the organization urges all members to never have contact with that person again.
Even parents can no longer see children. This policy, ‘shunning’, can cause psychological issues with sometimes very serious consequences. And it acts as a brake: members no longer dare to leave or return after departure.
A majority in the House of Representatives of VVD, D66, SP and Pvda now wants an end to this means of pressure, say the MPs in a Pointer broadcast. “It is a form of blackmail, it also appears to be a threat in a certain sense,” says VVD MP Ulysse Ellian. He wants the Minister of Legal Protection, Franc Weerwind, to find out through which law this policy can be tackled. SP MP Michiel van Nispen calls the practices disgusting. He argues that if necessary, a change in the law must be made.
Freedom of religion
The Netherlands has freedom of religion, which means that a religious community can draw up its own rules for living. But that freedom works both ways, says D66 MP Joost Sneller. “It should also mean that you have the freedom to leave it again. Otherwise it is not true freedom of religion.”
In some countries, authorities have already turned against this shunning policy. In Belgium, a judge banned it on pain of fines, and Norway withdrew subsidies for Jehovah’s Witnesses. In both cases, the faith community has filed an appeal or a higher appeal has started.
In the Netherlands, some ex-members recently filed a report with the police and collected signatures from supporters. According to Henri Dahlem, representative of the group, there are more than 1000 signatories. This includes those from anonymous, active Jehovah’s Witnesses, he says. ‘They want to protest, but don’t dare because of the great risk of being kicked out.’
Jehovah’s Witnesses: We Follow Biblical Guidelines
The Jehovah’s Witnesses – an estimated 30,000 members in the Netherlands – confirm that shunning does exist, but that it is based on Biblical principles. It applies to members who have been baptized, and each individual Witness then acts according to his or her personal religious conscience, the organization said. The Dutch head office in Emmen refers to previous case law from which it appears that a religious community may use this policy. Contact between active members and excluded members is also possible, a spokesperson said. This is possible for those who indicate that they wish to return and who show remorse.
So those who do not want to return lose lifelong contact, even with immediate family members, ex-members claimed in the TV broadcast. They point out that it sometimes leads people to even take their own lives. The excluded members do not ask for a ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses themselves, but only on this social declaration of death. The Ministry of Legal Protection says it will respond to this request before 1 June.
The broadcast of Pointer ‘Jehovah’s punishment‘ can be seen on Sunday 20 March at 10:10 pm on NPO2.