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• A federal appeals court has refused to allow a "disfellowshiped" Jehovah's Witness to sue her former church for defamation, invasion of privacy, fraud, and outrageous conduct. The disfellowshiped member claimed that she had been aggrieved by the Jehovah's Witness practice of "shunning" which requires members to avoid all social contacts with disfellowshiped members. The court, acknowledging that the harm suffered by disfellowshiped members is "real and not insubstantial," nevertheless concluded that permitting disfellowshiped members to sue their church for emotional injuries "would unconstitutionally restrict the Jehovah's Witness free exercise of religion." The constitutional guaranty of freedom of religion, observed the court, "requires that society tolerate the type of harm suffered by [disfellowshiped members] as a price well worth paying to safeguard the right of religious difference ...

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Richard R. Hammar is an attorney, CPA and author specializing in legal and tax issues for churches and clergy.

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Posted:
  • July 1, 1987