Jehovah’s Witnesses deny their members the right vote in democratic societies. Members who exercise their democratic right are expelled and shunned.
Freedom of religion is a fundamental right in a democratic society. We have the right to believe what we want. We have a right to associate together and share our beliefs. And we have the right to create bylaws to uphold those beliefs.
When considering human rights as a whole, be it religious rights, democratic rights, or any other rights, we need to consider those rights in view of how they may seem to conflict with one another. On the one hand, we must be permitted to exercise our religious right. If it is our religious belief to remain neutral in political affairs then we cannot sanction such a belief. On the other hand, if a person wants to exercise their right to vote as part of the democratic process, the consequences for doing so must be limited insofar as it does not infringe on any other human rights.
Jehovah’s Witnesses believe in remaining neutral in the political affairs of the countries in which they reside. They do not attempt to affect the results of the votes. Rather, no matter the outcome – whether it is a constitutional change, or a particular party voted into office – the Jehovah’s Witnesses strive to comply with the law, the government and pay their taxes. If a member willingly goes against this belief, they consider the person as having disassociated. In other words, that member has expelled themselves from the religion.
Jehovah’s Witnesses must be permitted to discipline members who go against the tenets of their religion. However, that discipline must not go beyond the religious sphere. If the consequences for a person’s actions go beyond the religious sphere, then that religion is overstepping their religious freedoms and rights.
Unfortunately, Jehovah’s Witnesses do not limit their disciplinary process to those within their membership. It is one thing to expel a member for breaking their rules and tenets; it is quite another to inflict additional pain on that person when he or she is not considered a member. The extreme result for a wayward member should be expulsion. Period.
If the person is no longer a member, then no additional sanctions should be imposed on that person. If additional sanctions are levied, such as stigmatizing the individual by labeling or ostracizing the former member then that religion has stepped beyond the realm of religious freedom and is now encroaching on that person’s other rights and freedoms. It’s one thing to say that a person is no longer a member; it’s quite another to continue to castigate that person when they have already been expelled.
Therefore, we must make the clear distinction between a religion’s right to create rules that prohibit members from exercising their right to vote, or committing any other acts deemed illegal from a religious perspective, and a religion’s misuse of its freedoms by applying additional sanctions on an individual when he or she is no longer considered a member.