[Special thanks to Roger Kirkpatrick for contributing this article.]

“No one should be forced to worship in a way that he finds objectionable or be made to choose between his beliefs and his family.”

That statement appeared in an article entitled “Is It Wrong to Change Your Religion?” in the July 2009 Awake! magazine, published and distributed widely by Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Nearly everyone reading that statement would consider it to be mere common sense. However, to a Jehovah’s Witness, that statement only applies to those changing religions to become a Jehovah’s Witness, not to those who leave the Witnesses for conscientious reasons.

That same Awake article continued: “Does study of the Bible lead to family breakup? No. In fact, the Bible encourages a husband and wife who practice different religions to remain together as a family.” Yet, Jehovah’s Witnesses who voluntarily leave the religion for conscientious reasons are often divorced by their mates who remain in the religion. My wife of 43 years divorced me for leaving the religion in which both of us were raised.

It has been said that the Jehovah’s Witnesses religion is like the Eagles’ Hotel California where “you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.” An individual Witness can “check out,” as it were, by becoming inactive, ceasing to attend meetings at the Kingdom Hall and not actively preaching, both of which are required activities for active Witnesses. However, if at any age one chooses to “leave” by voluntarily resigning from the religion for conscientious reasons, one is ostracized and shunned by family and friends who remain in the religion. Such treatment of ex-Witnesses is mandated by the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and anyone failing to obey their directive is subject to the same treatment. Many observers—evidently including the Russian government—view this common practice by Jehovah’s Witnesses to be a violation of basic human rights.

Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that they alone are God’s organization on earth today, and their actions over past decades suggest that they consider themselves to be an entitled religion, exempt from the judgments they impose on other religions. For example, the article “Are You Also Excommunicated?” in the January 8, 1947, Awake! magazine criticized the Catholic Church’s practice of excommunicating those who violate Church laws, stating that the practice has no basis in Scripture and is of pagan origin. However, just five years later, in 1952, the Watchtower Society embraced a more severe form of excommunication called disfellowshipping. Unlike excommunication, disfellowshipping requires that morally upright persons who leave the Witnesses for conscientious reasons be completely shunned and viewed as dead by family and friends who remain Witnesses.

Similarly, the article “Their Refuge–A Lie!” in the June 1, 1991 issue of The Watchtower denounced as apostate other religions specifically for being accredited to the United Nations as non-governmental organizations (NGO). However, before 1991 ended, the Watchtower Society had also become accredited to the UN as an NGO. While publicly denouncing the UN as the Devil’s visible organization, the Watchtower Society served essentially as publicity agents for the UN and continued in that capacity for the next ten years, reapplying each year for accreditation, until the double standard was exposed by an exposé in The Guardian newspaper in October 2001.

Jehovah’s Witnesses are taught to believe that it is their God-given responsibility to expose religious error and hypocrisy wherever they find it. They often visit their neighbors—uninvited—and warn them to leave their Babylonish false religions or face destruction by God at Armageddon. They believe that failure to render such warning makes one blood-guilty before God. Yet, Witnesses who openly challenge unscriptural Watchtower teachings and practices are routinely disfellowshipped and branded as “mentally diseased” apostates.

It has been said that when a toxic person can no longer control you, they will influence how others view you. If only in spirit, Jehovah’s Witnesses closely resemble the Islamic State (ISIS) which literally kills those whom it views as infidels.

In his book, Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief, Lawrence Wright wrote:

“People have the right to believe whatever they choose. But it is a different matter to use the protections afforded a religion by the First Amendment to falsify history, to propagate forgeries, and to cover up human-rights abuses.”

Russia recently banned Jehovah’s Witnesses as an extremist religion which threatens human rights and destroys families. I believe that any religious organization which suppresses truth, or manufactures and propagates its own truth, is an oppressive and harmful cult. Furthermore, I believe that any religious organization which violates the basic human rights of its members—such as requiring families to shun members who leave for conscientious reasons—should have its tax-exempt status revoked.