This time it’s Australia.
The Watchtower Society is facing another major court case that will be necessary to resolve a $3 Billion (Australian dollars) class action lawsuit. This may be the most serious battle they’ve waged in decades because they are actually facing serious criminal charges in a trial court in the State of Victoria, Australia.
Filed on behalf of over 6,000 children, this class action investigation may unveil over 14,000 alleged serious criminal breaches of Australian state and federal mandatory child protection laws over the past four years. Charged with either ignoring or violating the law are elders and ministerial servants associated with Kingdom Halls of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
The Victoria State Government’s “Inquiry into the Handling of Child Abuse by Religions and other Organisations” is expected to hold a public hearing about this in early 2013.
A victim advocacy group for survivors of the Church of Jehovah’s Witnesses within Australia, JW Survivors, is providing the evidence and testimonies needed to successfully launch this lawsuit. This evidence relates to criminal breaches of the Victoria State’s “Working with Children Act 2005.” Specific violations of that act were allegedly committed by members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses between July 1, 2008 and December 12, 2011. This was after full compliance with the “Working With Children” laws became mandatory for all “religious organisations” on July 1, 2008.
On July 26, 2011, the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Christian Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Australia, were formally charged in the Magistrates’ Court of Victoria for their willful refusal to comply with mandatory child protection laws.
The “Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses” refused to answer a Summons to appear in Court on September 13, 2011 – as did the “Christian Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses.” Both corporate entities also failed to appear when summoned to appear in court on October 11, November 9, and December 6, 2011. They continued to ignore the court’s summons on February 21, 2012 to answer criminal charges.
Arrest warrants were then issued by the court for each individual member of the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses and presented to the Magistrates’ Court by Acting Prosecutor Steven Unthank.
The Watchtower Society and Jehovah’s Witness congregations are charged with violation of Section 35 of the Working with Children Act 2005 by continuing to allow and encourage certain designated members to engage in “child-related work.” They are also charged with knowing that it is child-related work and continuing to use certain agents (“ministers of religion”) who have not passed a working with children background check. In total there were over 2,000 Jehovah’s Witness “ministers of religion” and volunteers directly engaged in child-related work in over 100 congregations.
The Watchtower Society in Australia has not only failed to follow the letter of the law, but it has also not explained to local Jehovah’s Witnesses, particularly elders and ministerial servants, that they also may have individually committed criminal offenses under the Working with Children laws.
Over 14,000 serious offenses by Jehovah’s Witnesses have been documented as violations under the Act in Victoria. They are facing potential fines and financial penalties of AU$3 billion ($2,961,020,160.00). Australian dollars are roughly comparable in value to US dollars (now 1.05 USD per 1.00 AUD).
In addition to monetary fines and damages, in Victoria violations of the Working with Children laws are “Level 7” offenses and carry up to 2 years imprisonment plus a potential fine of AU$33,800 for individuals and AU$169,008.00 for a corporate entity.
The Watchtower Society has chosen to ignore not only the legal system of the Victoria State Government, but also the outcries over the number of child abuse cases uncovered within dozens of Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Halls throughout Australia. They briefly got an undeserved reprieve from a State prosecutor, but now that the Watchtower’s Governing Body and corporate entities are ignoring lawful government authorities, they have placed themselves and the Australian Branch of the Watchtower in a very vulnerable position. The organization’s reputation is taking a horrific beating by all the bad publicity. It is likely that the Candace Conti lawsuit in the United States and the major breaking scandals now under investigation in Norway are becoming well-known to rank and file Jehovah’s Witnesses and the public at large throughout Australia and New Zealand.
For the Watchtower it looks like this case will become another in their “growing collection of public black eyes and bloody noses.”