Spreading the word tests freedom of speech
By spreading what they believe to be Jesus’ word, Jehovah’s Witnesses have inadvertently tested the limits of the First Amendment.As a result Jehovah’s Witnesses have paved the way for several landmark First Amendment rulings in the United States.The main point of contention in many of these cases is the Witnesses’ door-to-door preaching.Jehovah’s Witnesses go door-to-door because they want to share a message: Under God’s will everyone on earth will live in peace, and there will be harmony and peace with mankind and the physical world.Unlike many religions that limit preaching to church functions and intimate conversations, Jehovah’s Witnesses knock on residential doors to find new brothers and sisters.”The reason we go door-to-door is because Jesus went door-to-door and he told us to do it,” said Cathy Lou Pogainis, a church member at the Kingdom Hall in Glenwood.Contrary to what a grumpy neighbor in pajamas might think, door-to-door work is a very well-thought-out process requiring devout training and an explicit understanding of the Bible and other Jehovah’s Witness literature, Pogainis said.Pioneers – those who go door-to-door – go to theocratic school every Tuesday or Thursday night to study the Bible, the Watchtower, which is an in-depth Bible supplement, and Awake!, a current events issue coupling social and economic problems with scripture, Pogainis said.Jehovah’s Witnesses are not required to participate in door-to-door work but those who do learn how to talk to people about God’s hope, Pogainis said.A regular pioneer works around 70 hours a month, said Mindy Schmidt, 18, a pioneer for Glenwood Park.When someone is interested in what Schmidt’s preaching, she either meets with them for a mini-Bible study or leaves them Jehovah’s Witness literature.”Occasionally it’s hard to balance everything I do with door-to-door work,” said Sheridan Dull, 22, a part-time pioneer. “It really helps to put spiritual things first because the other things fall into place a lot easier.”Schmidt, Dull and other pioneers cover different areas in the valley so they hit every neighborhood without dominating a single area. Sometimes, though not often in the valley, Jehovah’s Witnesses run into people who do not want to talk and feel the Witnesses are invading their privacy.In several areas, including the Valley of Stratton in Ohio, cities have developed ordinances and permit requirements for door-to-door preaching to “protect privacy.”However, in 2002 the Supreme Court banned Stratton’s permit requirements under the pretense that it was unconstitutional, setting the precedent for other state permits and ordinances.”Personally we don’t consider it soliciting,” Pogainis said. “We consider ourselves preachers,” said Max Pogainis, Cathy Lou’s husband.Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t experience too much opposition in the valley, Cathy Lou said.”Here we get a lot of indifference and apathy,” Pogainis said.An indifferent or apathetic person may yield time with Jehovah’s Witnesses because many times indifference and apathy is spawned from misinformation, Max said.Many people believe Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t believe in God – they do; that they are disrespectful to the government – they remain neutral to all situations; and they willingly let people die because of their stubbornness regarding modern medicine.Jehovah’s Witnesses are frequently criticized for not choosing to get involved with national or world politics.They never endorse candidates, take a position in a time of war or lean toward one side, Max said.”We can work the ways of peace and we may have to suffer but in the long run it will benefit mankind,” Max said.In West Virginia State Board of Education vs. Barnette, a landmark case in 1943, Jehovah’s Witnesses tested their right not to speak by refusing to salute the American flag.”We respect the flag but we view the pledge as an act of worship and we would never use that disrespectfully,” Max said.Complacency as well as their refusal to salute the American flag has pegged Jehovah’s Witnesses as disrespectful to the U.S. government, Max said.Jehovah’s Witnesses are also criticized for refusing to take blood from others.While this may not seem too harmful, “thou shall not kill one’s neighbor,” it becomes controversial in life-or-death situations when a patient refuses a blood transfusion.In the past 30 years doctors have worked closely with Jehovah’s Witnesses to develop medical marvels that coincide with the Witnesses values, Max said.No matter how invasive or disrespectful Jehovah’s Witnesses may seem to some, the Supreme Court has supported Jehovah’s Witnesses and their First Amendment rights for the past 50 years.”Because we’re in hard times right now people like hearing about hope,” Schmidt said. “I think because of that I’ve seen more receptiveness to our door-to-door work.”By the Numbers:6.4 million number of Jehovah’s Witnesses worldwide as of 2002252 minimum number of languages Jehovah’s Witnesses publish literature in70 average number of hours of door-to-door work a pioneer completes each month
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