I have grown up within the Jehovah’s Witnesses and I can confirm that voting by choice is unheard of for a member.
Originally published by Aftenposten. Written by an anonymous Jehovah's Witness.
“With support from the congregation, close relatives decided to cut all ties with me after my political involvement became publicly known. It hurts, every day”, writes the submitter, who wants to remain anonymous.
Losing father and mother, sister and brother. That is what Aftenposten thinks is a fair price to pay for participating in democracy and voting in elections in Norway.
On Friday August 9, 2019, the newspaper had advocated that Jehovah’s Witnesses should be allowed to continue their practice of shunning members who choose to vote in elections without compromising the religious community’s right to state support.
And the rationale? “It is questionable at all whether there are active Jehovah’s Witnesses who vote or want to vote.” As doubtful as there are dissidents in North Korea? (The sentence was removed from the updated version of the report, as Aftenposten had no basis for writing this. – Aftenposten Editor)
I have grown up within the Jehovah’s Witnesses and I can confirm that voting by choice is unheard of for a member. A breach of the requirement will result in total exclusion from being with family members and others in the congregation. Jehovah’s Witnesses argue that members have voluntarily agreed to the conditions they live by. I know how much social and thought control is applied during childhood. Many are baptized from ages 9 to 15.
If you get baptized, you risk losing your democratic rights forever.
In my case, I defied the warnings at a certain point and began to think critically and independently. After a while, I realized that the foundation of my faith was a pie in the sky and so I decided to leave the church.
Because of the desire to keep in touch with close relatives, I chose to become inactive and “slip away” to avoid formal expulsion. Of course, this led to very reduced contact with former friends as I automatically ended up labelled as “bad association”, but somehow I managed to keep my family.
Secretly voted in the Elections
After many years out of the congregation, there was a desire to be able to get involved in important day-to-day issues and in the local community. I started secretly voting in the elections, I joined a political party and eventually took a political position. Although I was constantly concerned that I risked a great personal loss.
I hoped that in time it would work out for me and that I could live openly as a regular Norwegian citizen. There I was wrong. With support from the congregation, close relatives decided to cut all ties with me after my political involvement became publicly known. It hurts, every day.
Therefore, it hurt to read Aftenposten’s defense of the practice of Jehovah’s Witnesses in this field, dismissing my basic democratic rights and those of others with the following easy conclusion: “[Norwegian] practice requires a great deal to deprive religious communities of state aid. Although there is an attitude that goes against democratic values, the threshold should be higher than the doctrines prohibiting members from voting.”
Fall into the Liberal Trap
Religious freedom is a fundamental and necessary right. But when Aftenposten not only defends religious freedom, but still wants public support, they fall into the liberal trap: They protect the practice of the faith community at the expense of the basic rights of individual members.
Over the past 10 years, Jehovah’s Witnesses have received over NOK 100 million ($11 million) from the Norwegian state to run their business. It becomes paradoxical to me that we actively support an organization that promotes strong social control and sanctions towards current and former members who will vote in elections by taking away their loved ones.
I will be running for election in the fall and I am grateful for living in an open democracy, but at the same time I quietly grieve over the price I have had to pay for it.