Supreme Court cases involving Jehovah's Witnesses

Supreme Court cases involving Jehovah's Witnesses

Internationally there have been numerous Supreme Court cases involving Jehovah's Witnesses. The cases revolve around three main subjects:
*practice of their religion,
*displays of patriotism and military service, and
*blood transfusions.

Jehovah's Witnesses base their practice of evangelism on scriptures, such as –; they cite Acts 20:20,21 as scriptural support for the manner in which this activity is carried out, and receive additional encouragement in this activity from their literature and local congregations. The Supreme Courts of many lands have established their rights to proceed with this activity. [ “Jehovah’s Witnesses – Proclaimers of God’s Kingdom” –1993, chap. 30 pp. 679-701 | “Defending and Legally Establishing the Good News” | . © Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania]


The Supreme Court of Canada has made a number of important decisions concerning Jehovah's Witnesses. These include the striking down of Quebec's Padlock Law and other anti-Witness laws in the 1950s and more recent cases dealing with whether Witness parents had the right to decide what medical treatment was in the best interest of their children based on their faith.

El Salvador

In 1998, El Salvador's Supreme Court of Justice struck down a Social Security Hospital rule that required patients to donate blood in order to receive medical treatment. Previously, hospital policy called for all patients to provide two units of blood prior to a surgical procedure. After this, those who wish to receive medical treatment in the Social Security Hospital have the legal right to choose not to give blood.


In December 2000, Germany's Supreme court ruled that Jehovah's Witnesses did not have to pass a test of "loyalty to the state", laying the foundation for greater freedoms of worship for German citizens. [cite press release
title =Federal Administrative Court grants long-awaited recognition to Jehovah’s Witnesses in Germany
publisher =Jehovah's Witnesses; Office of Public Information
date =February 17, 2006
url =
accessdate =2006-12-31

] cite web
title =Jehovah's Witnesses Granted Legal Status
publisher =Deutsche Welle
date =March 25, 2005
url =,1564,1530197,00.html
format =
doi =
accessdate = 2006-12-31


In July 1985 in the state of Kerala, some of the Jehovah's Witnesses' children were expelled from school under the instructions of Deputy Inspector of Schools for having refused to sing the national anthem, Jana Gana Mana. A parent, V. J. Emmanuel, appealed to the Supreme Court of India for legal remedy. On August 11, 1986, the Supreme Court overruled the Kerala High Court, and directed the respondent authorities to re-admit the children into the school. The decision went on to add: "Our tradition teaches tolerance, our philosophy teaches tolerance, our Constitution practices tolerance, let us not dilute it". cite web
title =Bijoe Emmanuel & Ors V. State of Kerala & Ors [1986] INSC 167
publisher =World Legal Information Institute
date =August 11, 1986
url =
format =
doi =
accessdate =


On March 8, 1996, the Supreme Court of Japan ruled that Kobe Municipal Industrial Technical College violated the law by expelling Kunihito Kobayashi for his refusal to participate in Kendo lessons. He felt that these drills were not in harmony with such Bible principles as the one found at Isaiah 2:4, which says: "They will have to beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning shears. Nation will not lift up sword against nation, neither will they learn war anymore." The Court's decision established a precedent for future cases.

Misae Takeda, one of Jehovah's Witnesses, was given a blood transfusion in 1992, while still under sedation following surgery to remove a malignant tumor of the liver. On February 29, 2000, the four judges of the Supreme Court unanimously decided that doctors were at fault because they failed to explain that they might give her a blood transfusion if deemed necessary during the operation, thus depriving her of the right to decide whether to accept the blood transfusion or not.


In 1993, the Supreme Court of the Philippines held that exemption may be accorded to the Jehovah's Witnesses with regard to the observance of the flag ceremony out of respect for their religious beliefs. [ cite web
title=1993 RP Supreme Court ruling in Roel Ebralinag, et al. vs. Superintendent of Schools of Cebu
date=March 1, 1993

In 1995 and 1996, in a landmark case having far-reaching implications for the status of religious freedom in the Philippines, the Supreme Court of the Philippines granted an exception to laws regarding marriage to a practicing Jehovah's Witness because enforcement of those laws would have inhibited free exercise of religious beliefs. cite web
title=2003 RP Supreme Court ruling in "Estrada vs. Escritor"
accessdate =2006-12-31
date=August 4, 2003
] cite web
title=2006 RP Supreme Court ruling in "Estrada vs. Escritor"
accessdate =2006-12-31
date=June 22, 2006


After the fall of the communist block of nations in Eastern Europe and Asia, Jehovah's Witnesses were allowed to worship freely in those nations for the first time since WWII. However, recent years have seen a resurgence of political resistance to minority religions prompting several court cases in the Moscow courts which have led to the denial of registration for Jehovah's Witnesses in the Moscow district.

United States

U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Harlan Fiske Stone wrote, "The Jehovah's Witnesses ought to have an endowment in view of the aid which they give in solving the legal problems of civil liberties."

In the United States 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.

The most important U.S. Supreme Court legal victory won by the Witnesses was in the case "West Virginia State Board of Education vs. Barnette", in which the court ruled that school children could not be forced to pledge allegiance to or salute the U.S. flag. The "Barnette" decision overturned an earlier case, "Minersville School District vs. Gobitis" (1940), in which the court had held that Witnesses could be forced against their will to pay homage to the flag.

The fighting words doctrine was established by "Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire" (1942). In that case, a Jehovah's Witness had reportedly told a New Hampshire town marshal who was attempting to prevent him from preaching "You are a damned racketeer" and "a damned fascist" and was arrested. The court upheld the arrest, thus establishing that "insulting or 'fighting words', those that by their very utterance inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace" are among the "well-defined and narrowly limited classes of speech [which] the prevention and punishment of...have never been thought to raise any constitutional problem."

In a more recent case, Jehovah's Witnesses refused to get government permits to solicit door-to-door in Stratton, Ohio. In 2002, the case was heard in the U.S. Supreme Court ("Watchtower Bible and Tract Society v. Village of Stratton — ussc|536|150|2002"). The Court ruled in favor of the Jehovah's Witnesses, holding that making it a misdemeanor (to engage in door-to-door advocacy without first registering with the mayor and receiving a permit) violates the first Amendment as it applies to religious proselytizing, anonymous political speech, and the distribution of handbills.


External links

* [ Jehovah's Witnesses news releases]
* [ Jehovah's Witnesses video news ]

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