Photo- Sally Morrow/RNS
Religion Newswriters Association recently held their annual conference in Austin TX. Silentlambs was invited to make a presentation on the abuse issue regarding other religions beyond the Catholic Church. Laurie Goodstein is the Religion News reporter for the New York Times also wrote one of the first major stories on Jehovah’s Witnesses and abuse. The article represented a major credibility for abuse survivors with proving there was a major problem of covering up abuse within the Watchtower organization. You can read the article at this link, NYT Article . The story ran in August of 2002 shortly after Dateline and the BBC Panorama and right before the Silentlambs March that was part of the Fifth Estate Canada . You can watch the video of all these programs and more at this link, Silentlambs Multimedia .
Photo- Sally Morrow/RNS
The opportunity to present before these journalists was thirteen years in the making. The efforts of thousands of abuse survivors in contacting media and helping stories to develop are one of the main reasons, next to Catholics, the Jehovah’s Witnesses are noted as one of the main religions that have problems with covering up child abuse. It was nice to renew acquaintances with reporters that I had personally worked with over the years and help them to see we were still working in the interests of trying to protect children.
Photo- Sally Morrow/RNS
William H. Bowen, for Silentlambs, Candace Conti was invited to talk about her case and Basyle “Boz” Tchividjian, an Associate Professor of the Liberty University School of Law who was the great grandson of the Reverend Billy Graham.
Photo- Sally Morrow/RNS
Each presentation covered a different aspect of the abuse issue and how that it is handled by religion. Professor Tchividjian talked about the autonomous nature of certain religions that allow local ministers to get involved with child abuse. Candace in describing her local experience showed how much like the Catholic Church leadership can be responsible for bad policy.
Photo- Sally Morrow/RNS
My comments were as follows:
I was an active member of Jehovah’s Witnesses for forty three years, attended Seminary at the home office New York and then as an elder for fifteen years. In the year 2000 I discovered that a fellow elder was a confessed child molester. After a year of trying to have him reported to police, when I discovered new allegations, I was told to leave it in God’s hands. I resigned as an elder, in 2001 I founded the organization Silentlambs to help victims have a voice and educate the public on the cover up of child abuse. I have worked with the legal system for the last thirteen years as an expert on Jehovah’s Witnesses and high control religions. In addition, we have assisted in twenty five documentaries that have aired in fifteen different countries on Jehovah’s Witnesses and the cover up of abuse. This includes Dateline, Fifth Estate, Panorama, along with numerous print and audio media. We have been contacted by over 7,000 victims of abuse for healing and assistance.
When I was asked to speak at this conference I remember a time when I was somewhat skeptical. You see religion writers cover religion, they like religion and would be on their side. Yet it has been proven to me time and time again that you are unbiased and go to where the truth leads you.
In the last thirteen years we have filed close to one hundred lawsuits against the JW organization over child abuse. In recent months I have worked on legal issues with the Tony Alamo group based in Arkansas. Alamo Ministries touts itself as a religious charity for the needy. Mr. Alamo, a self described prophet is currently serving 150 years in prison for child molestation. According to religious doctrine that he claims was delivered to him by Christ little girls are eligible to be in plural marriages at the moment they start their periods. Mr. Alamo subsequently according to court documents took multiple brides of the ages of 16, 14, 12, 11, and 9 years of age, in addition to his older wives.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses say that God told them that when a child brings forth allegations of sexual abuse that the child must produce two eye witnesses if the molester denies the charge. How often do pedophiles abuse in front of eye witnesses? As a result, thousands of children have been silenced by church elders and threatened with expulsion if they tell anyone thus slandering the good name of the child molester. To date it is estimated they have paid out over fifty million dollars to settle abuse lawsuits with victims.
The questions remains why did it take so long to prosecute Mr. Alamo? Why are Jehovah’s Witnesses allowed to cover up child abuse and fight the courts to defend their rights to do so?
It is large part goes back to the early part of the twentieth century, numerous cases involving Jehovah's Witnesses are now landmark decisions of First Amendment law. In all, Jehovah's Witnesses brought 23 separate First Amendment actions before the U.S. Supreme Court between 1938 and 1946. These rulings actually define how the first Amendment is used for the benefit of religion.
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."
Due to recent controversy concerning religious rights and law it might be helpful to review the historical background of the United States' Constitution in order to correctly understand the proper meaning of the First Amendment re: religious freedom, it appears the passage of time has contributed to the loss of its original meaning and intent.
When the thirteen colonies revolted against England, it was due to the fact that the colonists were not being treated as free men. Whereas most people today are aware of the economic and military oppression of the American colonists, many, it seems, have forgotten the element of religious oppression that was also experienced by Americans.
Patrick Henry once saw a man whipped so mercilessly that he later died. That man was a preacher who refused to buy a license to preach. William Penn was once on trial for his life because of disagreeing with the doctrine of the Church of England.
Religious freedom for individuals was what was on the minds of the early Americans as they drafted the Constitution and its First Amendment, not organizational religious freedom. The religious establishment back then had a very significant difference between then and now. Most countries today enjoy a condition of relative religious tolerance. Where there are established churches there is usually freedom of religion for other beliefs as well. Two hundred years ago established churches were not at all tolerant of those who differed. The pages of history are filled to overflowing with the details of religious tyranny and persecution. The doctrine of the established church was part of the law of the land. Disagreement with that doctrine was a crime and punishable even to death.
While the Anglican Church continues as the established church in England, what religion became established in the United States? None, of course. Why? Because the First Amendment prohibited Congress from making any law respecting an establishment of religion.
When it is realized that only a state-sanctioned church can be properly called an establishment, and when it is noted that the United States has no religious establishment according to the proper meaning of the term, then it becomes clear that the First Amendment would have to be totally unnecessary. How could Congress make any law respecting religious establishment (to regulate or interfere) when there is no religious establishment anywhere in the United States to be interfered with?
When secular courts treat all religious organizations as establishments of religion free from governmental regulation, they create serious inconsistencies in law; they allow inalienable rights to be alienated from American citizens.
In effect, whereas Congress has not made, nor can it make any law which establishes a religious organization to be the official state church the courts have made law which makes all religions official. All religions have stated sanctions to mistreat their own members much like the medieval churches did to their members except they are not allowed to bum them at the stake or otherwise execute them for exercising their consciences. On the other hand they can express church sanctions that destroy families, punish the innocent, and exercise absolute control over their members.
When courts allow religious organizations, to violate what is normally the law of the land, by violating civil liberties and denying natural justice to others, they are parties to these illegal activities. They aid and abet.
It must be remembered that when courts place their seals on corporation charters, they do so after inspecting them to see whether or not they comply with the law. If someone wanted to register a charter with purposes similar to those of a religion, to preach and teach the Bible, etc., etc., but include the notice that he would endeavor to fulfill these goals by fraud, deception and the suppression of civil liberties and natural justice, what court of law anywhere on this earth, let alone the United States, would authorize such a charter?
Therefore the context of "clergy penitent privilege" when it comes in conflict with state laws regarding reporting abuse would have no bearing if it obstructed justice. It might be compared to US Bank as a corporate entity. If the CEO was discovered to not be reporting key managers within his company who were molesting children, when the matter was discovered he would be led away in chains. Yet when a key Cardinal of a Catholic Diocese is discovered to have committed similar actions he is simply asked to resign and kept on company payroll. Here we have a distinct inconsistency in an area of law where there should be none. It is the rights of the child as an "entity" that should supersede the rights of a religion as an "entity" to break the law and not report the crime of abuse that endangers the innocent.
When religion takes the rights of the individual away using the First Amendment as a basis, it is a compromise of the very reason the First Amendment was written to begin with. The First Amendment was written to protect the rights of the people not to protect the rights of a religion to oppress the people. Freedom from religious oppression was the reason for many coming to this country and now we find that religion has in effect gotten the upper hand by twisting the United States Constitution into something it was never meant to be. Institutions like Alamo Ministries, Jehovah’s Witnesses and others will continue to exploit the loophole of the First Amendment to abuse the innocent. For those reasons we need truth tellers, people like you to educate the public that the protection of the innocent is the greatest ideal put forth by the forefathers of this great nation.
The message that must be communicated is that all crimes otherwise required to be reported by any citizen, should have the same application when it comes to a religious context. Any religion that suppresses the obeying of civil liberties and natural justice should face the same penalties in the courts as any "entity" that commits similar actions. It is only then the United States Constitution will fulfill its intended purpose, that is, to protect the individual freedom of each and every citizen.
Photo- Sally Morrow/RNS
The attendance for the meeting was a packed room; I estimated there was around one hundred and twenty five or more that made up religion writers and freelance journalists. In addition, a lady by the name of Karen Jonson also made a presentation about her abuse at the hands of an Indian Guru. The book is called “Sex, Lies, and Two Hindu Gurus”. Karen went on to share how they are virtually impossible to sue for civil damages as they hide their immense wealth in Indian Trusts.
You can listen to a full recording of the program at this link, Play Audio . There was a question and answer session following that gave much information on the topic and why this needs reporting. The reception was very positive with great education on this topic.
The balance of time was spent talking with reporters about the abuse issues and passing out a lot of business cards for Silentlambs.
There was a film promotion of a movie that was shot in Nashville called the “Identical” it was a family based film with a leaning toward Christian values. The screened the film and Ray Liotta was there in person to promote the movie along with the other main actors.
On a lighter note William H. Bowen picture made with the Pope!
The respect given to Silentlambs has been earned through years or hard work and careful positioning as a credible and trustworthy organization to go to for factual information.
When stories develop in the future we can be a resource to offer unbiased assistance on helping accurate stories to be presented that help abuse survivors have a voice. When groups or blogs set forth to attack a religion for their doctrine they lose credibility with media. If any reporter uses them they come across as supporting yet another “hate group” against a religion. As a result few xjw groups have media coverage for this stance. At Silentlambs we have maintained neutrality as stated by the Silentlambs Mission statement. The result has been that reporters have over and over again done stories about the issues of the problems with the Watchtower policy on abuse as well as given abuse survivors a voice around the world. Jehovah’s Witnesses regularly contact Silentlambs for assistance with abuse issues and we are about to report problems in their congregations in the interests of protecting children in and outside of the organization. This type of trust is not gained overnight but built after years of assisting those in need, doing press conferences, making documentaries, and time and time again giving victims a platform to speak. Silentlambs helped file the very first lawsuits for victims and to date has assisted in close to one hundred litigations for abuse survivors. We wrote the first lawsuits describing the hierarchy of the organization and how it functions. The same wording is used in the current suits being filed to this day. Silentlambs brought out the first BOE letters and explained how they defined the policy that continues to hurt kids. We forced the Watchtower for the first time in 2001 to actually write out their abuse policy which has been used to help legal cases and explain to the public how they hurt kids.
All these various things along with many others are the reason that Silentlambs remains the gold standard when it comes to understanding the policy of Jehovah’s Witnesses on abuse and who so many abuse survivors trust Silentlambs to always work in their best interests. The efforts at this conference will lay an even stronger foundation for future stories for abuse survivors to speak out and know they are not alone. In the end what is accomplished? We protect children we will never meet.