Banned church member sues Jehovah's Witnesses

Tullahoma News/November 9, 2002
By Brian Justice

A Normandy resident who was disfellowshipped from Jehovah's Witnesses is suing the organization for $7 million on grounds the alleged action against her was wrong.

Barbara Joanna Anderson filed the lawsuit Thursday in Coffee County Circuit Court. She is seeking $2 million in compensatory damages, plus $5 million in punitive damages.

The defendants are listed as:

* Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York Inc.
* Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania Inc.
* Watchtower Enterprises LLC.
* Watchtower Foundation Inc.
* Watchtower Associates LTD.
* Kingdom Support Services Inc.
* Christian Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses.
* Religious Order of Jehovah's Witnesses.
* The Watchtower Group Inc.
* Manchester Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses Elders.
* Lawrence A. Seely, Gary Hobson, Dale Dormanen, Robert E. Matthews, David Semonian, J.R. Brown, and John Does No. 1 through No. 4.

Mrs. Anderson and her husband, Joe, had publicly spoken about alleged sexual child abuse being widespread among the Jehovah's Witnesses denomination.

The Andersons are members of the Silentlambs, which was organized to stop what they say has been repeated sexual abuse permitted because of Jehovah Witness bylaws.

Mrs. Anderson had said the denomination has a policy that does not require pedophile incidences to be reported to law enforcement authorities. She added that Jehovah Witnesses say they handle such matters in house.

However, Mrs. Anderson said what in effect happens is pedophiles end up being protected by a cover-up which allows them to continue their illegal actions.

She added they are often moved about through the denomination's many locations, which allows them to continue their actions.

She said child sexual abuse cases have occurred in Coffee County.

Mrs. Anderson said her and her husband's efforts to help change the system have resulted in retaliation from the denomination.

The Andersons have been disfellowshipped by the Kingdom Hall in Tullahoma where they attended. Disfellowshipping, the equivalent of excommunication, is the harshest punishment handed down by the organization against members. Shunning is included as part of the punishment, which separates families.

Mrs. Anderson said she is no longer able to see or communicate with her son, Lance Anderson, or his family who live at Mishawaka, Ind. She added that Lance is a practicing Jehovah Witness and is bound by the denomination's rules.

Watchtower spokesman J.R. Brown previously defended Jehovah's Witnesses' policies. "Clearly, with us having 95,000 congregations around the world and three to five to six elders in each, mistakes may have been made," he said. "But that does not mean that we don't have a strong and aggressive policy that shows we abhor child molestation."

Brown said that anyone found guilty of molestation by a church judicial committee is removed from all positions of responsibility and cannot evangelize door-to-door without being accompanied by a fellow Jehovah's Witness.

Mrs. Anderson says in the lawsuit that she can "no longer pursue her work to assist Jehovah's Witnesses who are child abuse victims because they are prohibited from speaking to a disfellowshipped person.

"This has caused irreparable harm to victims who are barred from taking to her."

The suit says Mrs. Anderson has "suffered severe emotional stress as a result of all of the foregoing acts complained of and that she has incurred medical expenses for treatment of her emotional problems which in turn caused physical problems."

The suit says she has suffered "severe emotional stress and the resulting medical expenses and physical problems were caused by the defendants with the specific intent to cause emotional distress and with a reckless disregard of the probability of causing that distress."

The suit also says that "the conduct of the defendants acting in concert with each other was extreme and outrageous and would be considered as such by the general public."

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