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Title Jehovah's Witnesses - Jehovah's Witnesses & Clergy Abuse Developments in Denmark and California
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Jehovah s Witnesses - Jehovah s Witnesses & Clergy Abuse Developments in Denmark and California January 25th, 2007 - The Jehovah s Witnesses religious organization is rightly credited with establishing important free speech precedent in the United States. [...] The recent documentary Knocking focuses on their contributions in this arena. It is extraordinarily ironic, then, that the Jehovah s Witnesses have recently, in Denmark, taken the position that speech, including speech by the press, should be punished and suppressed. It appears that when the topic is alleged clergy abuse within the organization, its position on freedom of speech makes a 180-degree turn. Apparently, the Jehovah s Witnesses support free speech for themselves, but not for their critics. The Facts, Allegations, and Outcome in the Denmark Case The case began when, in Fall 2004, one of Denmark s largest newspapers, Ekstra Bladet, ran a series of newspaper articles regarding credible allegations of sexual molestation within the Jehovah s Witnesses, and of a cover-up. The articles titles (as translated) included Jehovah-Leader Hides Child Molesting, Keep Quiet About Sexual Molesting, and Jehovah-Order: Keep Quiet About Child Molesting, as well as others. The newspaper reported that those who very credibly claimed they were victims of childhood sexual abuse within the organization were compelled to keep their claims secret. [...] The local Jehovah s Witnesses Branch Office Committee, composed of seven members who govern the organization, sued the newspaper, Ekstra Bladet, and its Chief Editor, Bent Falbert, for slander. They demanded 350,000 kroner and that the Chief Editor be criminally charged with slander. Last December, Judge Anne Grethe Stockholm rejected all of their claims, and ordered them to pay the other side s legal fees, which amounted to 50,000 kroner. The court reasoned that the topics addressed were newsworthy, and a matter of public interest, and that the stories discussing these topics contained legitimate legal analysis. Rulings in the Proceedings Against the Witnesses and Others in California Meanwhile, in California, the Jehovah s Witnesses there are facing lawsuits brought by alleged child sexual abuse victims, as well and also losing on key issues. In an October 2006 ruling, for example, a Napa court ruled that the clergy-penitent privilege does not cover communications within the organization regarding alleged childhood sexual abuse. [...] The Jehovah s Witness lawsuit in Denmark shows the same internal dynamic as in the Catholic Church, and based on the allegations, the institutions have adopted matching strategies: hide as much as possible and when exposed, go on the offensive. Somehow, these institutions came to believe that they have a right to an internal, secret sphere where they cannot be held accountable for their culpability in the suffering of children. [...] This is a summary extract from the full article as it appeared on FindLaw, Jan. 25, 2007 Full Article