Excommunicated witness Noomi Pilot breaks down in tears on the witness stand. Of the group behind her, there are eight witnesses, but according to Eydís, the witnesses lined up people from their ranks as close to the witness stand in Oslo as possible. Photo/Patrick Haeck

Throw a teenage girl out of the house

EDITOR’S WARNING – This translated article contains material that discusses shunning and ostracism. Reader discretion is advised.

Originally published in Icelandic by Morgunblaðið on January 18, 2024

"The consequences have been a bit different for me than for many because I was never baptized, so I have been able to have some contact with those from the family who are still inside," says Eydís Mary Jónsdóttir in an interview with Morgunblaðið.

She was born into the religious community of Jehovah's Witnesses, but left it at the age of fifteen. "However, the consequences of growing up in an environment with negative social restraints are the same whether one is baptized or not," she continues.

Eydís has just returned from Oslo, Norway, where she has sat part of the main proceedings of the case of Jehovah's Witnesses against the Norwegian state before the District Court of Oslo, in which the religious association demands to get its state funding back, but they were deprived of it by the ruling of the state representative in Oslo and Viken in January 2022 following that, Norwegian state broadcaster NRK exposed the ostracism and exclusion of Jehovah's Witnesses in the series Guds utvalde, or Guds utvalde, which Brennpunkt's investigative journalism team had trouble with.

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Eydís together with her husband, Guðmund Stefán Gunnarsson, but he sat the trial with her. Photo/Submitted

Made to account for his sexual behavior

The state commissioner's office considered the behavior of the management of Jehovah's Witnesses to be in violation of the law on religious organizations, but the Norwegian Ministry of Children and Families had assigned the office to investigate the case preparation and the ruling of the religious organization.

In God's Chosen, Brennpunkt managers reported on the conditions that Jehovah's Witnesses set for their members, such as that young people were required to give a detailed account of their sexual behavior to the elders of the religious organization, in addition to talking to ex-witnesses who had been ostracized and some of them had who very limited or no social background behind.

A new law on religious associations entered into force in Norway in 2021, and all religious associations were invited to renew their registration in accordance with that law. However, Jehovah's Witnesses do not meet the requirements to be a registered religious organization in Norway in light of the new law.

Sat directly behind the witness

The religious association now demands before the District Court of Oslo - in addition to the ruling on the above being ruled invalid - that the state pays them a total of 51 million Norwegian kroner, equivalent to almost 672 million Icelandic krónur, plus interest, which is the amount that the association believes it has with the state due to deprived grants in the years 2021 to 2023.

A number of witnesses have appeared before the court, both high-ranking administrators within the religious association and former members who have suffered ostracism, and Eydís Morgunblaðin reports how members crowded into the assembly hall and in at least one case an elder from the religious association's council of elders sat directly behind. a woman in the witness stand whom he himself had decided should be expelled.

"Former witnesses and their baptized relatives also met there," says Eydís. "For example, there was a witness who I looked up to, looking past his parents and younger sister. He pretended not to know them. Same with the daughter-in-law. "Witnesses from the group of former witnesses knew almost all the witnesses who attended and in many cases had been close to them," she says of those present in the courtroom.

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Eydís and her mother, Fjóla Sigurðardóttir, who left Jehovah's Witnesses at the time but was careful to show complete neutrality towards her daughter's presence in the religious community. The day came, however, and Eydís saw her bed open in anger. Photo/Submitted

So how did it all begin?

"My mother was a witness when I was little," continues Eydís. "She divorced my dad, who was still always on the sidelines in the club. He went to gatherings and didn't celebrate Christmas and all that but never really took the plunge. They divorced when I was six years old and as it was presented to me when I was six years old, my mother left the church and I naturally just believed that she was going to die in armageddon [end of the world according to the teachings of Jehovah's Witnesses] which I believed that the year 2000 would come," she says.

"It was set up for us siblings that Dad promised to help us survive armageddon if we chose him in the divorce. So all of us siblings actually choose to live with dad completely unrelated to anything other than the fact that we were going to survive armageddon so our relationship with our mother was in many ways destroyed by this. For example, my brother didn't invite my mother to his wedding," says Eydís, who goes on to say that she grew up mostly within the congregation.

"My father drank a lot and I had enough of it when I was fifteen and decided to move home with my mother - with whom I had had a very limited relationship until then - where I had the privacy to be myself," recalls Eydís. . Her mother did not say anything about the religious community to her daughter, neither positive nor negative, but drove her to meetings and allowed her to completely rule the road.

The turning point and the cap

"The reason I decided to go out there was a meeting I attended, a book study that was always on Tuesdays. It was flu season and many people were sick and there was only one baptized man who was fourteen years old and then women and children," says Eydís of the day she decided that she would not associate with Jehovah's Witnesses.

A woman in the group decided to take control of the book study, "which women are not allowed to do, but there was no one else qualified to manage it." She then put on a 66 degree north cap and said she put the headgear on to show her submission to man and Jesus and god. Because she was a woman, she would have to put on the headdress to show that she was submissive."

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Part of the legal team of Jehovah's Witnesses in Norway in the Oslo District Court. Photo/Submitted

Eydís said there that she had seen her bedspread in anger when this woman - for whom she had great respect - made this statement. "And I never went to a meeting again, there was just something wrong with me. But there I also perhaps had the space to think for myself as I lived with my mother who was no longer part of the congregation and was therefore no longer exposed to this negative social restraint that dominates the congregation.

Have you suffered any setbacks since you left the company?

"Because I am not baptized, people in the association can approach me and talk to me, but the relationship is always limited. I have never experienced a normal relationship with those relatives who are part of the congregation. But that's just because I wasn't baptized. They naturally believe that my family and I will die hopefully soon in armageddon so it may be logical, in their eyes, not to put much energy into building a relationship with me, aside from how "bad company" I am. as I am not a witness. In Vottunum, there is no infant baptism, children are baptized much later, I think the average age is 14-15 years old," Eydís explains, adding that the parents do not decide on the baptism, the children answer questions and the elders decide if they are ready or not. .

Unbaptized colored corneas

If a child has not received baptism at the age of fifteen, it is common for his peers in the congregation to look askance at him, even push him aside and keep a certain distance. "I grew up in this and for me it was normal, I had no comparison. But now my oldest child is 20 and I have raised my children - and myself, really - and then maybe you will realize how strong and formative this negative social control is and how serious the consequences are," says Eydís from

She grew up in Akureyri, but later lived in Reyðarfjörður and Fellabær. "In Reyðarfjörður, I was the only girl who was a witness, apart from me there were only my siblings and some younger children. I just remember this feeling of being alone a lot. I wasn't allowed to go to class nights, I wasn't allowed to go to annual festivals and I didn't participate in sports after school, but I think I've knocked on the door of every single house in Austurland built before 1994," says Eydís of the years before east.

What were the reasons for those rules - not being allowed to attend parties with people outside the religious community?

"The Witnesses do not see themselves as part of the world. They believe that the world - which is everything outside the religious community - is in the power of the evil one and there are only Satan and evil spirits trying to get you away from Jehovah and using everything they can. They just walk around like roaring lions, looking for someone to devour. This is how I was taught to look at people outside the congregation. That's why you have to watch out for teachers and also other children, that they don't take your mind away from Jehovah," says Eydís and continues - because the matter is even more complicated.

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Eydís together with former Belgian witnesses, Belinda and Patrick Haeck, in the district court. Photo/Submitted

"How you spend your time also matters. Are you spending it doing something for Jehovah or are you just doing something that is just fun but could keep you from getting through armageddon? It's always that fear. Jehovah also knows what you are thinking. He not only sees what you do but what you think so you need to be careful not to think bad thoughts. Then you'll just die in armageddon," says Eydís.

Witness the ostracism of five years

Children with limited development and understanding of life and reasoning absorb this information raw and it becomes its reality. "You always have to be careful what you do and who you are with." What you think. If you're with someone "of the world" who wants to do something you're not allowed to do, you're just in great danger and you're in real danger. Just buying a lottery ticket is potentially life-threatening. This is very special and something I have a hard time explaining properly," says the former child witness.

In the continuation of this description, Eydís points to another side of the matter, but it can be noted that she first remembers witnessing the ostracization of her fellow believers when she was five years old. "If you offend in any way, for example teenagers who start having sex, whether it is masturbation or with others, or associate with people who have left the church, ask too difficult questions about the faith or the management of the church, then you are in danger to be fired and subsequently ostracized. This is a huge fear factor because it's not just the congregation that ostracizes you, it's your family too," says Eydís and gives an example.

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The courtroom was crowded during the main proceedings of the case against the Norwegian state. The witnesses demand an amount of almost 700 million Icelandic ISK from the government. Photo/Submitted

The worst thing is to leave the church

She clearly remembers a girl who was then fifteen or sixteen years old and was thrown out of her home. "She just had to take care of herself. If I think about the kids in Akureyri, I think at least half of them, maybe more, got into all kinds of messes. Some have re-entered the congregation, as it is difficult to establish oneself as a young person when the entire support network is taken away. It has such serious consequences for people to grow up in such a fear management environment," recalls Eydís.

According to Eydís, many of the former witnesses who took the witness stand in the Oslo District Court during the main hearing of the case told the judge that they suffered from complex post-traumatic stress disorder.

"It tells you a lot and I myself have been diagnosed with this disorder, normal PTSD is due to something that happens in adulthood, people have an accident for example, but a complex disorder develops in you when you are a child and your brain is not fully developed, usually because that a child lives for a long time in unsafe conditions," explains Eydís.

Jehovah's Witnesses teach that the worst thing that people in the church can do is to leave him, then it is at the power of satan and the very last kind of people. "So when you quit on your own, it's so ingrained in you that these people are bad that you don't want to be just as bad by going and talking to them." This is a regime that extends beyond that when you quit," says Eydís, recalling that a group of former witnesses in Iceland did, however, start to talk together because of Sunna Valgerðardóttir's Kompásátórt about religious violence, for which she received a journalism award last year.

"Then we realized that we all had these same experiences, the same traumas and the same long-term consequences. There were about six or seven of us women who all had to leave the labor market for varying lengths of time to work on ourselves. This is very costly for the state and for society, that people are so badly off many years after this experience that they can't work full time, maybe for a longer time," says Eydís from the experience of the women who started discussing the issues among themselves.

Forbidden to eat with Jehovah's adversaries

We turn to the trial in Oslo and what happened in the main proceedings of the case of Jehovah's Witnesses against the Norwegian state. First, however, comes a small preface.

Eydís reports that after the ex-witnesses started talking to each other, the Association of Religious Violence Enthusiasts was born. Following the media coverage of the case of Jehovah's Witnesses, the spokesman for the religious organization in Scandinavia, Norwegian Jørgen Pedersen, wrote article that appeared in Morgunblaðin on March 18 last year.

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An article submitted by the spokesman for Jehovah's Witnesses in Scandinavia appeared in Morgunblaðin in March last year. screenshot

"There he wrote that everything was based on a misunderstanding and that Jehovah's Witnesses were sorry that they were spoken of so badly," says Eydís, who responded to Pedersen's message with an article on Vísi . "After I wrote this reply, I was in a position to accept that, in all likelihood, no witness will ever want to talk to me again.

In fact, they are no longer allowed to sit at the same table as me and have coffee with me, it is forbidden to eat and drink at the same table as Jehovah's opponents - which is what they call me now. For example, my oldest brother hasn't been in touch with me since I wrote this article – and neither have I. Some relatives have also broken ties with me on social media," says Eydís of the consequences of the article that Vísir published. [See Responding to Pedersen’s Propaganda for further details]

Line up influential people on the witness stand

Because of the above - and not least to show support to other former witnesses - Eydís decided to attend the trial in Oslo, and she was not alone on the boat, on the contrary. Former witnesses from all the Nordic countries as well as friends of Eydís from Belgium were there, but current witnesses also crowded the courtroom.

"The witnesses are trying to overturn the reasons given by the state for not meeting the conditions to receive the grant. It was an incredibly amazing experience to go in there, the hall was full of witnesses and many of them were so-called district shepherds, they are supposed to take care of the congregations and look after the elders and there were also elders and also many people who were connected to the witnesses," says Eydís from

Saying goodbye to the witnesses, she tried to arrange influential people closest to the witness stand, such as in the example of the witness mentioned above - behind that witness sat the elder who kicked the witness out of the congregation at the time.

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Noomi Pilot answers the judge's questions before breaking down on the witness stand. Photo/​Patrick Haeck>

"They come as soon as the house opens and try to fill all the front seats," says Eydís and adds that the testimony of the witnesses was striking, for example Noomi Pilot collapsed in the witness stand as the first photo of this interview shows. Of the people sitting behind Pilot and seen in the picture, eight are witnesses and you can read from the expressions of some of them how they like the testimony.

Never looked towards his parents

"My husband is not a witness, he sat next to me and wept, but when you looked at the witnesses, they were completely frozen in expression throughout the trial," says Eydís, but her husband, Guðmundur Stefán Gunnarsson, understood well what happened in court materially. since they lived for years in Denmark, so Norwegian is understandable to them.

"There was also a family that had not been expelled from the church, they are what is called "faded", they are in a gray area, so to speak. One day their daughter-in-law was in the hall and she didn't want to talk to them. The next day their son arrived, but he made sure never to look in their direction.

At the same time, the Witnesses were trying to argue in court that the congregation was not asking relatives to exclude each other. That it was an individual decision," says Eydís Mary Jónsdóttir in conclusion of her life with Jehovah's Witnesses and the trial in Oslo, where the religious association is suing the Norwegian government for a payment amounting to hundreds of millions of Icelandic ISK after the Norwegian authorities deprived them of all payments from the state.

The trial will be discussed in more detail and the verdict will be published here on mbl.is.

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Lester Somrah

Lester Somrah writes about the beliefs and practices of Jehovah’s Witnesses on his social media platforms and was baptized as a member in 1998.

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