Conflict Between Welfare of Child and Divorced Parent's Freedom of Religion
December 27, 1992 

Leslie Stahl: When a judge decides which parent gets custody of a child in divorce, the welfare of that child is paramount. But suppose the welfare of the child is in conflict with the mother's freedom of religion, and the religion is "Jehovah's Witnesses".

Stahl: (Voiceover) Take the case of David Scott and his six year old daughter, Ashley. Scott separated from his wife, Donna, when she became a Jehovah's Witness. His wife won a bitter custody battle over Ashley and now Scott feels that the Jehovah's Witness lifestyle is isolating his daughter.

(Footage of Scott and Ashley)

David Scott: (Voiceover) She has no friends at her mother's house at all and she will not have any school friends through the rest of her life now. My daughter wants to be a cheerleader; she won't be allowed. No social activities. No dances. No dating. So that's her whole life's ruined completely -- academically, socially. What they want her to be -- they want her to be one of Jehovah's Witness robots.

(Footage of Scott and Ashley)

Stahl: (Voiceover) And Scott feels that the organization is changing the way his daughter feels about him.

David Scott: (Voiceover) They are getting her to hate me because I'm not one of Jehovah's Witnesses. They think I'm the enemy. They think I'm Satan.

Stahl: You really think that you're about to lose your daughter? Do you really think that?

David Scott: I think there's a possibility that Dave Scott will lose his daughter in the future. There's no question about it. They're brainwashing her against me.

(Footage of Emilio Barron's Ex-wife and their son going door to door for Jehovah's Witnesses)

Stahl: (Voiceover) Or take the case of Emilio Barron, whose ex-wife turned Jehovah's Witness, and now takes their son door to door trying to get new converts.

Emilio Barron: They put a little suit on, a little tie, and -- they basically go door to door. And he comes - when he's with me -- he can't stand it. He tells me, "I hate it."

(Footage of Emilio Barron talking to Stahl)

Stahl: (Voiceover)  He felt there was nothing he could do as a family without approval of the church Elders.

Emilio Barron: We decided to go camping. And just before she went camping, she says, "Wait a minute, I've got to make a phone call." And I said, 'Well, what are you doing?" She said. "I've got to call, you know, my Elders." I said, 'Why are you calling your Elders?' 'Well, I've got to tell them where I'm going." "Well, why do you have to tell someone where you're going?" And I'm here saying, "Why is she doing this? Why is she ... ." -- it's almost like reporting.

(Footage of Mrs. Barron and her son, Mrs. Scott and Ashley, and Watchtower magazines being published.)

Stahl: (Voiceover) Emilio Barron's wife declined to be interviewed, and so did David Scott's wife, as did the officials of the Jehovah's Witness organization. Jehovah's Witnesses have been around for over a century. There are 4 1/2 million throughout the world, almost a million in this country alone. The organization is run from an impressive real estate complex in Brooklyn New York, right across from the world's most-famous skyline. It is here that the signature magazines, Watchtower and Awake, are published. They have a circulation of 28 million a month. Virtually every member of the church takes several copies to study and to pass out to potential converts.

Unidentified Woman being offered Watchtower literature: What is it exactly?

Unidentified Jehovah's Witness Woman: It's Bible-based information -- beats the newspaper. And it actually tells the future.

(Footage of Jehovah's Witnesses walking on the street while Duane Magnani talks to Leslie Stahl)

Stahl: (Voiceover) What they're preaching door to door is that the end of the world is coming, and coming soon, and only Jehovah's Witnesses will be saved on earth. That the earth today is ruled by Satan and they must live their earthly lives as far removed from the Satanic world as possible. Former Jehovah's Witness, Duane Magnani, who's in disguise, now runs Witness, Inc., a group that condemns what it considers Jehovah's Witness abuses.

Duane Magnani: Back in the mid 1970's they predicted the end of the world for 1975 and they lost around three-quarters of a million people. It wasn't just 1975. They predicted the end of the world in 1914; 1918 was supposed to be Armageddon; 1925, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were supposed to rise from the dead and there was supposed to be paradise; World War II was the end of the world and finally 1975.

Stahl: When you're taught about Armageddon, only Jehovah's Witnesses are going to survive.

Duane Magnani: Right!

Stahl:  Wh--what are you taught about that? Is that supposed to be a -- a wonderful thing or a tragedy?

Duane Magnani: Well, you don't think about the other people. They're of Satan's World. It's -- it's time to play. It's time to pick out your home. It's -- you know, you can build a mansion.

Stahl: Time to pick out your home?

Duane Magnani: Yeah. When I was a kid, for instance -- when we went out knocking on doors, we'd go through some richer neighborhoods and pick out the homes we wanted.

Stahl: And of course no one would be living there, so you could just go and have it.

Duane Magnani: Right.

(Footage of Jehovah's Witnesses standing at a door)

Stahl: (Voiceover) Today [Jehovah's] Witnesses still go door to door. You've probably seen them in your neighborhood, often with a child in tow.

Duane Magnani: Only associating with Jehovah's Witnesses is allowed. It's an exclusive, communal-type organization.

Stahl: Even though you do go to public school.

Duane Magnani: You go to public school. But when you're at public school -- when kids stand to salute the flag, you're not allowed to.

Stahl: Why don't they salute the flag?

Duane Magnani: The country is run by Satan. All countries are run by Satan so there's no allegiance to this country. And so there's no Pledge of Allegiance to the United States flag.

(Footage of Pennsylvania JW Attorney Stephen Eugene Langton (deceased 2009) talking to Stahl)

Stahl: (Voiceover) Stephen Langton is an attorney and a Jehovah's Witness. He is the only member of the organization who would go on camera. He represented Mrs. Scott at the custody hearing and is speaking for her.  ... ... ... David Scott says that Ashley is discouraged by her mother from participating in holidays at school and that it's isolating her. It...

JW Attorney Stephen E. Langton: Well, I realize Mr. Scott says that, but on direct examination of Mrs. Scott in court I asked her specifically on those questions, and again, it's a personal decision. Now Ashley...

Stahl: You're saying for a six-year old it's a personal decision.

JW Attorney Stephen E. Langton: For...

Stahl: She lives with her mother. Her mother tells her it's wrong.

JW Attorney Stephen E. Langton: Mm-hmm. Now...

Stahl: I mean, that -- that's too much of a stretch to say that a six-year-old has freedom of -- of choice in that kind of case, isn't it?

JW Attorney Stephen Langton: Now what the mother is telling her is -- yes, the mother's instructing her as far as what she believes. The mother has the right to say, "Ashley, this is how I feel. These are my religious teachings. I don't think that's right. This isn't how your dad feels though."

(Footage of David Scott and Ashley playing ball)

Stahl: (Voiceover) Jehovah's Witnesses are forbidden to have blood transfusions. David Scott's biggest fear is that if his daughter were in an accident and needed a blood transfusion, she wouldn't get one.

David Scott: She actually told me that she would let my daughter die if she needed a blood transfusion. She said, "That would be a test of her faith to Jehovah God."

JW Attorney Stephen Langton: She would not want her to have a blood transfusion; that's correct. However, the final decision is going to be with Mr. Scott, according to the court order.

David Scott: The court has given me medical veto power. But the problem lies, will the [ex-]wife ever tell me if there's an emergency? That's the big problem.

(Footage of people walking and of Judge Samuel Payne walking with Stahl)

Stahl: (Voiceover) The problem for the judges who have to decide these custody cases is to try to separate the lifestyle, which is so removed from mainstream America, from the right of a parent to practice his or her religion and to raise the children the same way. But Judge Samuel Payne of Chattanooga, Tennessee, who's heard several of these cases, says that if the decision were based on the lifestyle alone, the custody decision would always go against the Jehovah's Witness parent.

Judge Samuel Payne: Well, if we have two people who are divorcing who are of mainline theologies of America -- if one of the parties says, "I want custody of the children, but I am going to discourage him from college, they can't belong to any clubs at school, can't participate in any school functions, cannot salute the flag," and the other says, "Look, I want this child to develop it's full potential and become a productive member of society." In that case, I have no problem. It's black and white.

Stahl: But now you've got two people; one's mainline religion...

Judge Samuel Payne: One Jehovah's -- yeah.

Stahl: ... Say the father, and the other, mother, maybe is Jehovah's Witness. Now what happens?

Judge Samuel Payne: Now you're in a real problem. The Jehovah's Witness lifestyle is constitutionally permissible so your problem is, I as a judge, cannot hold that religion against them. So sometimes the best interest of the child then pales and you have to look outside of it.

(Footage of Judge Samuel Payne talking to Stahl)

Stahl: (Voiceover) In other words, the First Amendment's freedom of religion takes precedence over the welfare of the child. ... ... ... I want to ask you a personal question. You're a Jehovah's Witness.

JW Attorney Stephen Langton: That's correct.

Stahl: Do you have children?

JW Attorney Stephen Langton:  Yes, I have two girls. (Jennica and Desiree)

Stahl: Are you raising your children that way?

JW Attorney Stephen Langton: I'm--I'm very happy with my children and...

Stahl: But are you raising them according to these same teachings?

JW Attorney Stephen Langton:  Yes, I am.

Stahl: But do they have friends? Do they play after school? Do they have activities?

JW Attorney Stephen Langton: I think that's a very appropriate question. Both of my daughters take ballroom dancing lessons, and they -- they go to dances regularly and perform and we engage in sports. We have get togethers, we have parties. [LANGTON DECEIVED LESLIE STAHL. SEE BELOW.]

Stahl: Within--within the group though.

JW Attorney Stephen Langton: Generally that's true. Now there again, most lawyers will associate with the Bar Association, with other lawyers, rather than with other doctors, correct?

Stahl: You're not using that as a good argument are you?

JW Attorney Stephen Langton: Well--well, what I'm saying is that you'll--you'll associate with people that you have common interests with. And with regard to Witness children, they'll associate with other Witness children because of their common interests.

Stahl: So that the ballroom dancing is with other Witnesses, and the band is also with other Witnesses?

JW Attorney Stephen Langton: No, actually their -- they take ballroom dancing lessons with their mother and father (that would be Stephen and Sandra Langton themselves), because we take lessons too, and we all do it together. And it's nothing that is religiously motivated.

Stahl: But they don't take it at school, and they don't go to school dances. This is separate.

JW Attorney Stephen Langton: Whether Jehovah's Witnesses go to school dances or not, that's a personal decision for Jehovah's Witnesses. My children don't, but I do feel that it's important to safeguard their associations so that -- that they're protected and -- as much as possible and still allow then to have choices.

Stahl: From what?

JW Attorney Stephen Langton: Well, certainly I think we've got to agree that there are a lot of bad influences out there.

(Footage of Stahl talking to David Scott)

Stahl: (Voiceover) One of the things that made David Scott the angriest was the charge of sexual abuse directed against one of his expert witnesses. The charge was made by his own daughter, Ashley, against Dr. Kenneth Ley, the psychologist that Scott had hired to evaluate his daughter's condition. ... ... She said that you had touched her.

Dr. David Ley: Yes.

Stahl: And obviously you defended yourself.

Dr. David Ley: I really didn't have to. Ashley recanted almost immediately.

(Footage of David Scott talking to Ashley and of Stahl talking to Emilio Barron)

Stahl: (Voiceover) David Scott testified that Ashley told him her maternal grandfather -- a Jehovah's Witness -- coached her to say it. ... ... ... And in the middle of Emilio Barron's custody hearing, the charge was suddenly raised against him.

Emilio Barron: Went to court and then--then she dropped the big one. She dropped the big one when the judge asked her what was -- what was going on. And she basically said that I had sexually abused my son. And that was terrible. That was awful. Never in my wildest dreams did I think that she was capable of doing this -- never. And it's all organization-motivated. In my -- you know, my eyes and my thought and my head knowing the organization, they've done it before and -- and they're -- going to continue to do it.

Stahl: What happened with the charge against you?

Emilio Barron: Well, there was never any police charges filed, but basically after the -- you know, the court-appointed report -- psychologist report -- I mean it -- it was clear, it was evident that I wasn't -- you know, I wasn't doing this.

Stahl: It's been brought to our attention that it's peculiar that it keeps coming up in Jehovah's Witness custody cases.

JW Attorney Stephen Langton: I -- I don't think that it's just with Jehovah's Witness custody cases. With the cases that I've been involved with, I feel that sometimes allegations of sexual abuse have risen. However, it's not generally a pattern.

(Footage of WATCHTOWER SOCIETY HEADQUARTERS in Brooklyn, New York, and a sign with the word "Watchtower" on it)

Stahl: (Voiceover) What he [Langton] does concede is a pattern that when a Jehovah's Witness parent goes to court in a custody battle, the organization in Brooklyn comes to the rescue with attorneys and expert witnesses, all free of charge. ... ... ... David Scott spent around $30,000.00 in this suit. Can you tell us how much Mrs. Scott spent?

JW Attorney Stephen Langton: Mrs. Scott has probably spent $200 to $300.

Stahl: And he spent $30,000.00?  That was your -- your bill was only $200 to $300?

JW Attorney Stephen Langton: No, my bill wasn't $200 to $300. It was substantially more than that. However, Mrs. Scott is unemployed. She doesn't have the money, so to this point I have been financing the case.

Stahl: The organization, the church isn't paying it?

JW Attorney Stephen Langton: No the church isn't paying it. The Watchtower organization --Society came into the case at my request once the religious issue was raised, and they agreed to assist in the case.

Stahl: And who paid them?

JW Attorney Stephen Langton: They -- both of those attorneys live at the worldwide organ --worldwide headquarters of Jehovah's Witnesses and their not paid. This is volunteer work. So they--they live there for room and board.

Emilio Barron: I've paid over $30,000.00 in legal fees, and it's just --when -- when you have an organization like the Jehovah's Witnesses, who gave my ex-wife total support ...

Stahl: Free legal ...

Emilio Barron: Free legal advice, free time. And the -- the resources are unlimited. I could have--I would have liked to have seen her eyes if I would have been able to pick up the phone, call the Pope, and said, "Let me have an attorney."

(Footage of Mrs. Barron and her son at a door)

Stahl: (Voiceover) But even if Emilio Barron and David Scott had the money to go forward on appeal, the issue still wouldn't change. As long as there is freedom of religion in this country, their children will continue to go door to door preaching the word of Jehovah's Witnesses, and there is very little that they can do about it.


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