The Belgian chapter of the Jehovah’s Witnesses have been handed a €96,000 fine by a court in Ghent for discrimination and incitement to hate. It sets a precedent in Belgium that religious doctrine cannot be used as an excuse to break human rights laws.
The ruling was the end of a six-year struggle by ex-member Patrick Haeck for recognition of the religion’s practices, which he described as cruel to the point of leading to suicide, as discriminatory. Fifteen other former members and the federal centre for equal opportunities, Unia, eventually signed on to the case.
The plaintiffs were particularly concerned about shunning, a practice used to discourage members from leaving, or even questioning, the religion’s doctrines. Members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses are strongly discouraged from having relationships or friendships outside the congregation. Should someone no longer want to be a member or begin to question some of their beliefs and practices, they risk being excommunicated and consequently shunned.