This past Tuesday marked the most important night of the year for Jehovah’s Witnesses as it was the aside for the Memorial of Christ’s Death. The annual commemoration of Jesus’ death is the most widely attended Jehovah’s Witness meeting of the year with special campaigns conducted to invite the public to join them at local Kingdom Halls and rented facilities. The audience will typically be made up of local members of the congregation and their friends and family. Interested visitors contacted by Jehovah’s Witnesses in the door to door ministry will often join them. It is also not uncommon for disfellowshipped, former Jehovah’s Witnesses to attend.
The event itself features a talk geared toward explaining the basic Watchtower theology when it comes to the importance of Christ’s death followed by the passing of a goblet of wine, representing his shed blood, and a plate of unleavened bread, representing his broken body, among the audience. A large part of the talk itself encourages the audience not to personally partake of the religious emblems passed. Last year of 18,168,323 that attended only 10,857 ate of the bread and drank from the cup, a fact that was specifically noted in the talk that was presented at the event.
Now while Jehovah’s Witnesses make great effort to get people to get people in the door for this special event it is ironic when they stop others at the threshold. It is reported that a disfellowshipped family in California were blocked when they attempted to gain entrance into a local Kingdom Hall for the purpose of attending this commemoration and partaking of the religious emblems offered. When they went to enter the building they were met at the door by a congregation elder that informed them that they would have to wait outside until the program began, at which time they would be escorted in. So for twenty-five minutes they had to wait outside in the cold while others, Jehovah’s Witnesses and visitors alike, entered the building without prohibition. This is actually a improvement from 2001 when they were totally barred from entering the same building under threats of police involvement. What was this family’s crime? It was simply that they desired to peacefully testify to Christ by eating of his bread and drinking of his cup, doing so out of obedience for Jesus’ command and their personal love and appreciation for him. (Luke 22:19-20; John 6:54)
Now while the congregation elder’s actions were completely unloving and uncivilized they were also illegal according to US Federal Law. The US Freedom of Access to Clinics Entrances (FACE) Act protects the civil liberties of individuals who wish to exercise their constitutionally guaranteed freedom of religion. The law states that it is a prohibited activity to “by force or threat of force or by physical obstruction, intentionally injures, intimidates or interferes with or attempts to injure, intimidate or interfere with any person lawfully exercising or seeking to exercise the First Amendment right of religious freedom at a place of religious worship” [18 U.S.C. § 248 (a) (2)] According to the Act, “the term ‘interfere with’ means to restrict a person’s freedom of movement.” [18 U.S.C. § 248 (e) (2)] By this definition the elder’s actions violated the Act as they singularly restricted the family’s freedom of movement into a place of religious worship, the local Kingdom Hall. Unfortunately this is not an isolate case as I know personally of another disfellowshipped couple who were similarly prevented from entering a Kingdom Hall by members of the local Body of Elders.
If you have been faced with this situation or potentially will it is important to be mindful of the rights granted to you by US law to enter a religious building for the purpose of exercising your constitutional right of freedom of religion. When faced with an elder at the door to the Kingdom Hall blocking your entrance it may be appropriate to kindly remind them of your legal rights in the matter. (Compare Acts 22:25)