"Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance." - Emphasis Ours.Basically, they claim that somehow shunning violates their freedom of conscience, thought, and religion. Let us briefly examine why shunning in the way Jehovah's Witnesses practice it does not violate human rights, or Article 18.
Understanding Article 18To understand if shunning is a violation of Article 18, ask yourself these questions if your association with Jehovah's Witnesses has ended:
"How is shunning preventing me from exercising my freedom of thought and conscience?"
"How is shunning preventing me from joining another religion?"
"How is shunning preventing me from expressing or manifesting my beliefs, religious or otherwise, in public or in private"?
Answering these questions honestly should lead you to the proper conclusion.
Diversionary PropagandaThe only time shunning runs afoul of human rights is when a group uses it to have an effect outside of its own membership. For example, if a group uses it to inflict financial harm or harassment through isolation, calling their employer, blacklisting them with businesses, spreading false rumors, threatening lawsuits or calling the police on them with anonymous phone calls, then it can conflict with human rights. However, former Witnesses have the same freedoms and powers as non-members of civil society. They can join another religion, freely express their opposing views with the public at large, and retain or acquire employment. In fact, once they leave, we have no interest in or concern with them whatsoever. (Heb 6:4-6)
Another factor to consider is that if a person makes it officially known verbally or in writing that he or she no longer wants to be one of Jehovah's Witnesses, they are shunning us, rather than us shunning them. We are obligated to honor this official declaration. Since we did not initiate such action, we cannot be accused of violating their human rights.
But opposers never present that side. Instead, they focus on the possible effects of shunning in an attempt to distract you from the facts and manipulate how others perceive us. They use emotive, non-neutral language such as: "it breaks up families", "separates children from parents", and "causes emotional torture". While that may happen on the rare, extreme end, those are unintended consequences. How does shunning one member break up an entire family? It does not unless that member is permitted to poison other members against each other.
Thus if they stick to shunning, it actually prevents family break-ups, as only an apostate's divisiveness and disregard of the shunning arrangement can cause friction in a family. How does it separate children from parents? Former members try to make it look like we kick under-aged children out of our homes, but that is a lie. Since the 1950's, we have made it clear that parents must take care of their children until they are adults by the law of the land, regardless of shunning. (De 6:6, 7; Pr 19:18; 22:6 ;Eph 6:4) Thus only adults are shunned by their parents. Inversely, children of disfellowshipped parents are expected to remain in subjection to their parents until they come of legal age to leave, so long as they are not asked to violate God's word or endanger their lives or their salvation. (Acts 5;29; Col 3:20)
How does it cause emotional torture? It does not. "Torture" implies intent. The only intent to torture emotionally is by the shunned individual when they keep trying to contact their families, knowing the pain they are causing, not only to their families. but to themselves. If they left their families alone, there would be no torture.
Our beliefs and practices are shared with all members before they join. And just because one finds an experience traumatic, that is not necessarily a violation of human rights. For example, to some people, being kicked off a sports team is traumatic, but that does not mean their human rights have been violated. The team's coach has a right to choose who gets to be part of the team.
If you breach company policy and are fired from your job as a result, and you are no longer allowed onto the property, is that a violation of your human rights? Are you somehow being tortured? Just because it is painful does not make it torture.
A person can file a restraining order against a family member, does that mean the person is torturing the family member? Of course not. Just think about why the person needed to file the restraining order in the first place. It is because the family member was either physically dangerous or was harrassing them. We shun in order to keep ones from posing a spiritual danger and because those who leave often try to harass those who stay. It takes only a single internet search to verify this in the thousands of pages posted by our apostates.
The Courts Have SpokenThough there is no clear violation of human rights, this did not stop Janice Paul from trying to sue us in the United States over the issue of shunning. In 1987, the US Court of Appeals for the 9th District upheld the Witnesses right to shun those who fail to live by the organization's standards and doctrines, upholding the ruling of the lower court. The court concluded:
"Shunning is a practice engaged in by Jehovah's Witnesses pursuant to their interpretation of canonical text, and we are not free to reinterpret that text. . . . We find the practice of shunning not to constitute a sufficient threat to the peace, safety, or morality of the community as to warrant state intervention. . . . the defendants are entitled to the free exercise of their religious beliefs. . . Although we recognize that the harms suffered by Janice Paul are real and not insubstantial, permitting her to recover for intangible or emotional injuries would unconstitutionally restrict the Jehovah's Witnesses free exercise of religion" - Emphasis Ours.We do not take the difficulties related to shunning lightly, and that is why we offer Witnesses who may be thinking of leaving, or those who break Bible principles, every opportunity to remain in the fold and offer them assistance in dealing with whatever issue they have. But at the end of the day, it is up to them to accept it.
As to the general accusation that Witnesses "break up families", the ECHR (European Court of Human Rights) stated:
. . . that non-Witness family members often cause conflict by refusing “to accept and to respect their religious relative’s freedom to manifest and practise his or her religion.” - Emphasis ours.Shunning is a free practice of our religious beliefs as well. As the ECHR stated, it is not so much about the belief itself, its more about respecting our rights to practice them, whether you agree with them or not.