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Jehovah’s Witnesses on 20th anniversary of Supreme Court case Watchtower v. Stratton

Two women who were sexually abused as children say the Jehovah's Witnesses failed to report their abuser to authorities in Montana and instead expelled him from the congregation as punishment until he repented. Pictured, in 2015, is a sign atop the then-world headquarters of the Jehovah's Witnesses in New York.
Seth Wenig
Pictured, in 2015, is a sign atop the then-world headquarters of the Jehovah's Witnesses in New York.

This summer marks the 20th anniversary of the Supreme Court case Watchtower v. Village of Stratton. In the 2002 decision, the court struck down the town’s ordinance that made it illegal to canvass or solicit door-to-door without a permit.

The court said it violated the First Amendment protection of free speech. It’s a decision that directly impacts everyone from religious organizations to political candidates to trick-or-treaters.

Robert Hendriks is the national spokesperson for Jehovah’s Witnesses, the organization that brought the case before the Supreme Court.

"The Supreme Court was saying I, as a homeowner, have a right to invite anybody into my home, or I have a right to say no, but you can't contravene that right by saying no before I want to say no," he told HPR.

"The government has no right to tell me who can come to my door. I exercise that right. That's an individual right. And so not only was the Stratton ordinance taking the rights of Jehovah's Witnesses, and those who would go door-to-door away, it was also taking the homeowner’s right away to decide on who would come to their door," Hendriks said.

Hendriks says while his organization is neutral to politics and does not canvass nor lobby, it is willing to fight for the right to share its beliefs, especially when that right is guaranteed by the Constitution.

This interview aired on The Conversation on July 27, 2022. The Conversation airs weekdays at 11 a.m. on HPR-1.

Russell Subiono is the executive producer of The Conversation and host of HPR's This Is Our Hawaiʻi podcast. Born in Honolulu and raised on Hawaiʻi Island, he’s spent the last decade working in local film, television and radio. Contact him at talkback@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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