WALSH TRIAL CITATIONS
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The Watchtower, June 1, 1955, pp.329-332 "A Battle for Religious Rights in Britain"


JEHOVAH’S witnesses recognized as a religious body!” Is there anything unusual about that headline in the British press? No, not in the headline, but notice the date. It is January 7, 1955! But Jehovah’s witnesses have been in this land since the 1880’s and their governing organization, the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, has had an office in London since 1900. Half a century is a long time to battle for the rights and freedoms that go with legal recognition!

The headline appeared over the report of a decision given by Lord Strachan in the Scottish Court of Session, Edinburgh. It was unusual in that many people wondered why Jehovah’s witnesses should need to go to the courts to have their status determined. They know their work, their meetings, their assemblies and have themselves enjoyed the benefits of their ministry. And they were still more perplexed when the judge held that Jehovah’s witnesses constituted a religious body but that one who has given his life to the ministry and is an overseer of a congregation of Jehovah’s witnesses is denied recognition, by the law of Britain, as a “regular minister.”

The case, which is acknowledged to be of great importance in a field that is seldom traversed today, concerns the interpretation that is to be placed on seven common, everyday words in the National Service Act of 1948. That act includes a clause exempting from military training not only a man in holy orders but also “a regular minister of any religious denomination.” The clergy of the orthodox religions come under this exemption. Jehovah’s witnesses simply say that certainly their pioneers and congregation servants are entitled to do so too. A “pioneer” is a person who takes up the ministry as a vocation, spending at least a hundred hours a month preaching to the people at their homes, not to mention time spent in personal study, attending meetings and doing just enough secular work to gain the necessities of life. A congregation servant is the minister who presides over a congregation of Jehovah’s witnesses. There are 718 congregations in the British Isles, made up of some 30,000 active witnesses, themselves all ministers. Lord Strachan says that Jehovah’s witnesses are undoubtedly a religious denomination, but men appointed to either of these offices are not “regular ministers.”

The case was begun when, in spite of previous unsuccessful attempts to have the courts recognize the claims of Jehovah’s witnesses, the president of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society directed that the position be tested again. An action for declarator was brought in Scotland that asked the Court of Session to declare that Douglas Walsh was a “regular minister” because of his appointment as a pioneer and also because of his appointment as a congregation servant. The case became known as Walsh v. The Lord Advocate.

In January, 1954, a preliminary hearing was held in Edinburgh to determine if the pursuer (Scottish term for “plaintiff”) had a relevant case. The canny Scots are not disposed to waste time and money hearing witnesses if there is no sound legal foundation for the case. After hearing the lawyers present the arguments for both sides, Lord Strachan ordered it to “go to proof,” meaning that the court now wanted to hear the evidence. Eventually the proof was set down for November 23, 1954.


SOCIETY OFFICIALS FLY FROM NEW YORK

H. C. Covington, a United States barrister and the Watch Tower Society’s general counsel, had been present for the preliminary hearing in a supervisory capacity. Now it was determined that he and two other senior officers would fly from New York to give evidence at the trial. Thus the Society came to the side of Douglas Walsh, showing in a very practical way that it stands ready to fight for the lawful rights of Jehovah’s witnesses throughout the world.

The case was prepared so that F. W. Franz, vice-president of the Society, was the first to go into the witness box. Quoting liberally from the Bible in his hand, he outlined the beliefs of Jehovah’s witnesses, especially those that differ from the orthodox. He explained, too, the basic reason for the existence of Jehovah’s witnesses today: that 1914 marked the beginning of Christ’s second presence in Kingdom power and that a great work must be done to announce this fact to mankind before the war of Armageddon soon destroys the old, satanic system of things. Franz used the splendid opportunity he had to give a fine witness. He appreciated the courteous attitude of the court and, to the surprise of the lawyers and reporters, was acknowledged by the judge when he expressed his thanks.

Covington dealt with the organization of Jehovah’s witnesses, their ceremonies and practices. He explained the structure of the organization, describing its theocratic nature and how it functions from Jehovah down, the earthly part of it from the board of directors of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society through the branches to the districts, circuits, congregations and then the individuals. He showed that there was an articulate, well-defined organization. He also dealt with the breadth of the organization’s activities, its meetings, its preaching work and such ceremonies as baptism, funerals, marriages and the annual celebration of the Memorial. He explained the work and responsibilities of the pioneers and congregation servants and how these distinguished them from others of Jehovah’s witnesses.


Grant Suiter, the Society’s secretary and treasurer, also dealt with the functions of the pioneers and congregation servants and then with the finances of the organization. He had in court the balance sheets of the Society and discussed them. The figures showed that the contributions that come in from literature left with the people, far from enriching individuals or the Society, are insufficient to carry on the world-wide missionary work at its present volume and that voluntary contributions from Jehovah’s witnesses make up the difference. Thus the petty talk of parish magazines about the Society’s finances was shown to be without foundation.

The other four witnesses in the case were British. Of these A. P. Hughes, branch servant and presiding minister in the British Isles, gave evidence about the structure of the organization in Britain, and Douglas Walsh, the pursuer, spoke about his work as a pioneer and a congregation servant. The whole of the evidence had taken seven days to give.



THEY ARE A RELIGIOUS DENOMINATION

On January 7, Lord Strachan gave his judgment. After outlining the history, structure and practices of the organization, he dealt with the first of the two main questions, Are Jehovah’s witnesses a religious denomination? On this he said: “I am definitely of opinion that a body such as Jehovah’s witnesses must be a religious denomination if the following conditions are satisfied: (a) if it exists for religious purposes, (b) if it professes religious beliefs which are distinctive in the sense that they distinguish it from other religious bodies, (c) if it is organized as a separate body under its own system of worship, government and discipline, and (d) if its membership is reasonably substantial.”

Was the judge satisfied that Jehovah’s witnesses met each of these conditions? Yes, he was. Commenting on the first of them, he said: “In regard to the question whether they exist for religious purposes, it is abundantly clear that they profess to do so, and it seems to me that the only matter for enquiry under this head is whether they are sincere in so doing. I am satisfied that they are sincere. No attack was made upon the sincerity of the witnesses who gave evidence and in my opinion no such attack could be made. I heard the evidence of Mr. Franz, the vice-president of the Society, Mr. Suiter, the general secretary, and of Mr. Covington, the legal adviser, who is qualified as a barrister in the U. S. A., and upon their evidence, as to the work and routine of the headquarters of the Society in New York, I am satisfied that the staff there is sincerely and genuinely engaged upon the task of administering a body which they regard as religious, and upon the task of carrying out the purposes set forth in Clause 2 of the Charter of the Pennsylvania Corporation which, according to their express terms, are patently religious purposes.”



MINISTERIAL STANDING DENIED

The second of the two main questions, Is the pursuer a “regular minister” by virtue of his appointment as a pioneer? as a congregation servant? the judge decided against Walsh. Sir John Cameron, the Dean of Faculty of Advocates in Scotland, who appeared for Walsh, had argued strongly that if it were decided that Jehovah’s witnesses were a religious denomination it must then be for the denomination to determine who were its regular ministers. Surely no one outside could tell a denomination who its ministers were to be! The test must be subjective. He maintained that “regular” meant “according to rule” and since Walsh was appointed according to the rule of Jehovah’s witnesses the court must hold that he is a “regular minister.” The judge held, however, that since all of Jehovah’s witnesses were ordained ministers, the ordination itself did not create a “regular minister” and that it was for the court to decide the matter as far as the National Service Act was concerned.

Dealing with the term “minister” the judge said: “In order to be a minister a person must first be invested with the office of a minister of religion and second, be in use to, or at least entitled to, (for that is how I read these words) administer the religious ordinances of his communion. I am also of opinion that these two essential elements necessarily imply that a minister is in some way set apart in spiritual things from the ordinary members of his communion.”

The judge then applied his definition to Walsh’s appointment as congregation servant. He objected to the form of appointment, a letter signed with the Society’s stamp, and to the fact that the same letter was used to appoint other ministers to lesser offices in the congregation. He concluded that “the emphasis is definitely on administration rather than on spiritual leadership.”

The judge also found fault with the scholastic requirements of a congregation servant. Of the theocratic ministry school, where a congregation servant must have been trained for at least a year before his appointment, the judge said: It “sounds scholastic, particularly when taken along with the instructions and prescribed schedule of study.” Then, to the surprise of all who attend these schools, the judge went on to say that “what is taught is such as can be understood by children of . . . tender years.” The fact is that the ministry school is not geared down to the intellectual standard of children, but children are required to attend to get out of the course what they can. And that they get a great deal out of it is shown by the progress they make.
Commenting on the Dean’s argument that the founders of Christianity were not selected because of any scholastic attainments, the judge had this to say: “It was argued that the apostles were not required to have any particular qualifications but as plain men were commanded to preach and that Jehovah’s witnesses are following that example. That argument is, in my opinion, beside the point, for it is quite obvious that in exempting a regular minister of a religious denomination from national service in 1948 parliament was not thinking of a minister such as those who preached in the early church, but of a minister of religion as known in modern times.”


The judge found that Walsh was not a “regular minister” because of his pioneer status, even though the ministry was his vocation. A pioneer devotes more than a hundred hours a month to actual preaching to the public, apart from time spent in study and at meetings of Jehovah’s witnesses. How many clergymen devote that much time to their preaching? And the pioneer is not dependent on a stipend but earns his keep as Paul did! The judge’s chief difficulty was the age at which Walsh became a pioneer. In his opinion “it is absurd to treat a boy of 15 years as being a minister of religion.” It is clear that the judge could not get out of his mind the orthodox pattern and when Walsh did not fit that he could not see him in the role of “regular minister.”


PUBLICITY AND APPEAL

Great publicity was given to the case in the Scottish press and the national British dailies. The case itself was unusual enough, but the flight of three officers of the Society from headquarters to Edinburgh to stand beside Douglas Walsh in the witness box appealed to the public and attracted reporters from far and near. The major papers devoted more than a thousand column-inches to the case. Outstanding both for accuracy and space was The Scotsman. This high-quality paper reported fully each day and gave twenty-eight column-inches to the decision itself.

Jehovah has ordained his witnesses to be his ministers in restoring true worship in the earth at this most critical day in man’s history. Their authority comes from him. Every one of Jehovah’s witnesses must be a minister but some are appointed to positions of responsibility that distinguish them from other ministers in the organization. Do such appointment and added responsibility according to the law of Britain make the pioneers and congregation servants “regular ministers” under that law? Lord Strachan said they do not but Jehovah’s witnesses claim they do. Hence their appeal to the High Court of Justiciary in Scotland where three judges will next hear the case.

 

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Yearbook of Jehovah's Witnesses, 1973 pp.133-135


In 1953 it was determined that a test case should be prepared to establish whether the Society was a religious organization and whether it had regular ministers. The purpose was to meet the unfair situation whereby the conscription laws providing exemption for regular ministers of religion were being construed in such a manner as to deny Jehovah’s witnesses the benefit of such laws. The man selected had to meet many different qualifications, personal, ministerial, official, narrow age limit, and, of course, he had to be one who had been called upon to register for national service. Douglas Walsh of Dumbarton, Scotland, was eventually chosen, he being both a pioneer and a congregation overseer. By the close of 1953 plans were completed and strategy laid for the test case in Scotland. The aim was to determine legally whether Jehovah’s witnesses were a religious organization and whether pioneer and congregation overseer Douglas Walsh was a regular minister. In January 1954, a preliminary hearing in Edinburgh determined that Walsh had a relevant case and Lord Strachan ordered it to go to proof. The case was set down for November 23, 1954.

The Watch Tower Society’s vice-president, F. W. Franz, from the Brooklyn headquarters was first to go into the witness box. He outlined from the Bible the beliefs of Jehovah’s witnesses, especially those that differed from orthodox religions. Then Hayden Covington dealt with the organization, ceremonies and practices. Grant Suiter, secretary-treasurer of the Society, covered the finances of the Society and showed that contributions from literature distribution did not meet the cost of the worldwide missionary work and that voluntary contributions of Jehovah’s witnesses themselves made up the difference. Four other British witnesses gave evidence. Pryce Hughes, the branch overseer and presiding minister for the British Isles, explained the structure of the organization in Britain, while Douglas Walsh described his work as a pioneer and congregation overseer. The whole of the evidence took seven days to present and covered 762 pages of manuscript. On January 7, 1955, Lord Strachan gave his judgment. He ruled that a body was a religious denomination if it met the following requirements: (a) if it existed for religious purposes, (b) if it professed religious beliefs that were distinctive in the sense that they distinguish it from other religious bodies, (c) if it was organized as a separate body under its own system of worship, government and discipline, and (d) if its membership was reasonably substantial. Lord Strachan was satisfied that Jehovah’s witnesses met each of these conditions and were therefore a religious denomination.

Sir John Cameron, the Dean of Faculty of Advocates in Scotland, who led the Society’s case, argued strongly that if it were decided that Jehovah’s witnesses were a religious denomination then it was for the denomination to decide who were its regular ministers. No one outside could tell a denomination who its ministers were to be. He maintained that “regular” meant “according to rule,” and, since Walsh was appointed according to the rule of Jehovah’s witnesses, the court must hold that he was a regular minister.

Dealing with the term “minister,” the judge said: “In order to be a minister a person must first be invested with the office of a minister of religion and second be in use to or at least entitled to administer the religious ordinances of his communion. I am also of the opinion that these two essential elements necessarily imply that a minister is in some way set apart in spiritual things from the ordinary members of his communion.” He objected to the form of appointment of Walsh and concluded that “the emphasis is definitely on administration rather than on spiritual leadership.” He found fault with the scholastic requirements of the congregation overseer. Of the Ministry School, he said: “What is taught is such as can be understood by children of . . . tender years.”


The Dean of Faculty’s argument pointed out that the founders of Christianity were not selected because of any scholastic attainments, but in reply the judge declared: “That argument is, in my opinion, beside the point, for it is quite obvious that in exempting a regular minister of a religious denomination from national service in 1948 Parliament was not thinking of a minister such as those who preached in the early church, but of a minister of religion as known in modern times.” The judge, in fact, found that Walsh was not a “regular minister” because of his pioneer status, even though the ministry was his vocation.

The case was appealed therefore to the High Court of Justiciary in Scotland, where three judges upheld Lord Strachan’s judgment. The case was then taken to the House of Lords, the court of last appeal. On July 21, 1955, Lord Goddard, Lord Chief Justice of England, rejected the appeal. Jehovah’s witnesses were therefore judged to be a religious denomination that does not have any regular ministers.