I was reading an article recently about Russia potentially limiting Jehovah’s Witness activities this week. Apparently being a member is equivalent to being a member of ISIS, unless I’ve got this wrong.
One of the apparent reasons they’re disliked is they’re pacifists. Another is they refuse to take part in patriotic festivals. But there’s something else many Jehovah’s Witnesses refuse to do that isn’t mentioned in the piece: sing national anthems.
Everywhere from Tanzania to India, Jehovah’s Witnesses have had to go to court to defend their right not to sing anthems. They see singing as worshipping a country, when you’re only meant to worship God. In 1940s America, members were literally lynched, tarred and feathered, and thrown out of schools, for their opposition to the anthem, flag and pledge of allegiance.
But that opposition has achieved one surprising thing: the passing of laws protecting freedom of speech and thought worldwide.
At this time of growing nationalism, do we actually need Jehovah’s Witnesses more than ever to prevent any pernicious anthem laws being passed? If so, that’s a weird thing to say given that group’s own scandals, which suggest it’s not too keen about freedom of speech in its own organisation. Its lawsuits are also entirely self-interested. They don’t care about anyone else’s right to sing an anthem or not.
We really are in interesting times.