MAY NOT HONOR CONFIDENTIALITY - PRIVACY REQUIREMENTS
MANDATED BY LAW, THEIR EMPLOYER, OR PROFESSIONAL REGULATORY BODY
Any Employer who has a Jehovah's Witness Employee who is given access to the employer's records which contain confidential personal information -- be it that of the employer's customers, fellow employees, or some other group/class of individuals -- should read and re-read this webpage until "the light not only comes on", but is burning brightly. This applies not merely to clerical employees at banks, insurance agencies/companies, attorneys offices, courthouses, medical offices, hospitals, accounting firms, postal and parcel delivery services, etc., but also includes the "professionals" in these same/similar businesses who are subject to professional codes of conduct.
Medical patients should be aware that it is now quite common for Doctors to outsource the transcribing of their patients' medical records to work-at-home medical transcriptionists, many of whom are fanatical Jehovah's Witnesses who purposefully choose this occupation so that they can work at night and knock doors in the afternoons.
Any parent involved in a child custody contest in which the opposing party is one of Jehovah's Witnesses should be wary of any entity performing work related to the lawsuit which has Jehovah's Witness Employees or subcontractors who might be able to access your confidential information.
We suggest that visitors to this webpage first take the time to visit and browse or even read our WATCHTOWER SOCIETY SPIES & SECRET AGENTS webpage before you start studying this webpage. Having a feel for life "behind the scenes" inside the WatchTower Cult and its local Congregations of Jehovah's Witnesses will give readers a greater appreciation for and better understanding of the Jehovah's Witnesses related Breach of Medical Confidentiality cases and other types of Jehovah's Witnesses related Breach of Confidentiality cases posted on this webpage.
BREACH OF MEDICAL CONFIDENTIALITY
In August 1985, a "dirty little secret" which the WatchTower Cult had been able to keep quiet for decades was exposed to the rest of the world by an article published in MEDICAL ECONOMICS magazine. The article was written by an obstetrician practicing in Plano, Texas. The doctor opens:
"The young woman I'll call Toni had been a patient of mine and a family friend for several years before she began working for me. She wanted to become a childbirth educator, and we were glad to help her learn by assisting my wife ... in our office Lamaze classes. Toni turned out to be an excellent Lamaze instructor, and with our sponsorship and funding, she began her own series of classes for our patients at the local hospital."
The doctor was well pleased with Toni's skills as a childbirth educator, and approximately a year later, he offered Toni a position in his office as receptionist and bookkeeper. He continues:
"My wife and I were aware that Toni was a Jehovah's Witness, and we'd considered -- or so we thought -- the implications this might have for her work in a medical office. We'd discussed her beliefs with her, and found no conflicts with our own. Although her religion forbade the use of blood or blood products, she could accept without reservation that I was occasionally required to do so. Her beliefs also forbade abortion, but so did ours. We didn't foresee any problems at all. I was all the more confident because I had a number of Witnesses as patients. They're very family oriented, and consider bearing and raising children an honorable calling. They were careful about choosing an obstetrician, and didn't hesitate to ask questions about my practice philosophy. I'd always been able to satisfy them, and we'd gone on to enjoy good doctor-patient relationships. Finally, Toni was a genuinely kind and good person."
The doctor found Toni to be as proficient at this new job as she had been at the former. But, then ...
"Everything was fine until a patient I'll call Linda came to the office. Linda was a young woman from a small town near ours. She, too, was a Jehovah's Witness, and she and Toni knew each other. Linda told me a distressing story. On a recent visit to Houston, she'd gone to a bar, where she was raped by several men. She'd been treated for gonorrhea by a physician in Houston, and now was coming to me for a follow-up culture. I had no way of knowing if she was telling the truth about the rape, but that was none of my business. I simply took the culture, and when I found that the gonorrhea had cleared up, I thought no more of it.
"A few weeks later, I got a call from a very angry Linda. The elders of her church had gotten the whole story of her visit to Houston. She'd been denounced from the pulpit and expelled from membership. Her friends were forbidden to associate with her or even speak to her, and her family was allowed to speak to her only when absolutely necessary. Even her mother was forbidden to sit down with her for a chat. Linda was sure that the information could only have come fom Toni. She threatened a lawsuit unless Toni was fired. I had no assurance that she wouldn't sue even if I did fire Toni."
The doctor was shocked. He could not believe that Toni would have done such a thing. After all, he had discussed "confidentiality" at length with Toni before hiring her. His personnel manual even covered "confidentiality" - specifying immediate termination for any employee who would violate a patient's privacy. However, the doctor was in for a rude awakening:
"When I confronted Toni, I was even more stunned at her open admission that she was indeed the talebearer. She explained that in her religion every member is expected to report to the church elders any other member who violates its teachings and discipline. When she reviewed Linda's chart for charges and insurance information and read what Linda had told me, she spent some time deciding where her primary loyalty lay. In the end, she took the story to the elders."
Toni's ready response shocked the doctor more than if Toni had carelessly gossiped the information to church members. Instead, Toni had carefully thought the situation over before making her decision. Toni had considered both her employment relationship and her personal friendship with both the doctor and his wife, and after considering the damage that would be done to them, Linda, and herself, Toni had decided that her only loyalty was to her Jehovah's Witness religion. For those unfamiliar with the Jehovah's Witnesses, the doctor's response is somewhat typical:
" ... I found Linda's story of the public denunciation almost incredible. All the Witnesses I knew seemed so kind. I couldn't believe that their religion called for such talebearing and harsh retribution for backsliders. I telephoned a leading elder in the church, who'd been a friend [ED: sorry, merely an acquaintance] since high school. He told me it was all true. He explained that the church elders hadn't tried to weigh the truth of Linda's story of rape. As they saw it, she'd gone somewhere she shouldn't have gone, done something she shouldn't have done, and caught a disease she shouldn't have caught. For that, she had to suffer the punishment of "disfellowship," to be lifted only if she could satisfy the elders of her true repentance. The church had even ordered her to move out of her family home until she met the requirements for absolution.
"If I'd been angry when I called, I was furious by the time the elder finished his explanation. I asked him if he realized what his church had done to me, an innocent bystander. He said he was sorry, but, like Toni, he felt the teachings of the church had to come before all other considerations. He offered to call Linda and put pressure on her not to sue me. I told him she'd been hurt enough already, and begged him not to risk making her even more vindictive."
When the doctor hung up, he knew that he needed to contact his attorney. His attorney counseled him that he was legally responsible for the harm Toni had caused Linda. Despite his properly training Toni on "confidentiality", he was still ultimately responsible. At best, he could sue Toni for whatever he was forced to compensate Linda - assuming Toni had it to get. The doctor also discovered that his expensive Medical Malpractice insurance policy did not have the endorsement which would cover such a situation. Finally, the attorney recommended that the doctor fire Toni immediately. Despite what Toni had done, their long friendship made firing her extremely difficult. If only this had simply been a momentary error in judgment.
"First thing next morning, I told her what my lawyer's advice had been, and said I had no alternative but to comply with it. I asked her, though, what she'd do if she found herself in a similar situation in the future. After a moment's thought, she dropped her eyes and answered. 'I suppose I'd have to do the same thing.'
"I guess that made firing her a little easier. I told her I couldn't have anyone working for me who might violate my patients' right to privacy. I was careful to put it just like that, and to avoid any suggestion that she was being dismissed because of her religious beliefs. I was half afraid she'd turn around and sue me for religious discrimination -- and I was in enough trouble without that. But Toni accepted my decision meekly, and somehow we were able to remain friends.
"My next step was to try to cool Linda's anger and avert the threatened lawsuit. I wanted to apologize to her anyway -- I was terribly sorry that she had suffered so much because of her chance visit to my office. When I called her, I explained that I had learned as much as possible about what happened, that she was completely correct in her accusation, and that Toni was gone. I asked her to believe that I'd been completely unaware of what Toni was up to, and that I would never countenance a breach of patient confidentiality. Then I tendered my apologies and asked if there was anything else I could do to help minimize the trauma she'd been subjected to. To my overwhelming relief, she told me she relized it wasn't my fault and wasn't going to sue. Before we hung up, I said I'd be happy to see her again as a patient at any time, or to transfer her records to any other physician she might choose. But I never heard from her again.
"But I never heard from her again." The sad fact is, doctor, that neither has anyone else. "Linda" most likely accepted the Jehovah's Witnesses punishment of "disfellowshipping" and "shunning", and when the Elders thought that she was sufficiently repentant, she was allowed to rejoin her family, friends, and the rest of the JW community. Undoubtedly, there was either a spoken or unspoken agreement that "Linda" would never speak publicly about this again, if she knew what was good for her.
Exactly two years after that MEDICAL ECONOMICS magazine article was published, the September 1, 1987 issue of the WATCHTOWER magazine featured an article entitled: "'A Time to Speak' ó When?". Non-JWs should understand that the WATCHTOWER magazine is the main JW publication -- whose printed words are given equal authority to that of the Bible by JW members. Interestingly, the article opens:
"Mary works as a medical assistant at a hospital. One requirement she has to abide by in her work is confidentiality. She must keep documents and information pertaining to her work from going to unauthorized persons. Law codes in her state also regulate the disclosure of confidential information on patients. One day Mary faced a dilemma. In processing medical records, she came upon information indicating that a patient, a fellow Christian ("fellow Christian" is JW-Speak for fellow JWs only), had submitted to an abortion. Did she have a Scriptural responsibility to expose this information to elders in the congregation, even though it might lead to her losing her job, to her being sued, or to her employerís having legal problems? ... Was this the time for Mary to keep quiet, or was it the time to speak about what she had learned? ... But when there seems to be serious wrongdoing, should a loyal Christian out of love of God and his fellow Christian reveal what he knows so that the apparent sinner can receive help and the congregationís purity be preserved? (A key JW doctrine)
The first subheading, "Applying Bible Principles", opens with the points that if a Jehovah's Witness commits "serious wrongdoing", they should not try to conceal it. Jehovah sees everything, and hidden sins will eventually be accounted for. Then, one of the most important points in the entire article is subtly made:
"At times Jehovah brings concealed wrongdoing to the attention of a member of the congregation that this might be given proper attention."
Allow me to "interpret" from JW-Speak to plain English what that last statement actually means to JWs: Sometimes, when a fellow Jehovah's Witness has been fornicating with Satan, and they are hiding their evil deeds so that they can keep doing more without getting caught, Jehovah will 'test' one of his loyal subjects by revealing the evil JW's sin to them, so that they can then expose the evildoer to JW leaders, who in turn will disfellowship the evildoer, and thereby keep the congregation spiritually 'pure'.
The article next quotes Leviticus 5:1:
"Now in case a soul sins in that he has heard public cursing and he is a witness or he has seen it or has come to know of it, if he does not report it, then he must answer for his error."
Again, for non-JWs, allow me to "interpret" from JW-Speak to plain English: If Jehovah blesses you with the mission to help clean an evildoer out of the congregation, and you fail to do your part, then you have not simply sinned yourself - your sin is even greater than the sin you are helping to conceal. You are a "co-conspirator". You are a greater sinner than even the person who's sin you are helping to hide. You chose the evildoer over Jehovah.
The WATCHTOWER article continues:
This command from the Highest Level of authority in the universe put the responsibility upon each Israelite to report to the judges any serious wrongdoing that he observed so that the matter might be handled. While Christians are not strictly under the Mosaic Law, its principles still apply in the Christian congregation. Hence, there may be times when a Christian is obligated to bring a matter to the attention of the elders. True, it is illegal in many countries to disclose to unauthorized ones what is found in private records. But if a Christian feels, after prayerful consideration, that he is facing a situation where the law of God required him to report what he knew despite the demands of lesser authorities, then that is a responsibility he accepts before Jehovah. There are times when a Christian "must obey God as ruler rather than men." ...
While oaths or solemn promises should never be taken lightly, there may be times when promises required by men are in conflict with the requirement that we render exclusive devotion to our God. When someone commits a serious sin, he, in effect, comes under a 'public curse' from the One wronged, Jehovah God. ... All who become part of the Christian congregation put themselves under 'oath' to keep the congregation clean, both by what they do personally and by the way they help others to remain clean.
After discussing the fact that this Watchtower rule may sometimes cause great difficulties for Jehovah's Witnesses who are lawyers, doctors, accountants, etc., as well as Jehovah's Witnesses who are employed by doctors, hospitals, courts, lawyers, accountants, etc., this article ends with this encouragement:
"There may be occasions when a faithful servant of God is motivated by his personal convictions, based on his knowledge of Godís Word, to strain or even breach the requirements of confidentiality because of the superior demands of divine law. Courage and discretion would be needed."
Allow us to "interpret" this WATCHTOWER magazine article for those readers who do not understand JW-ESE. Jehovah's Witnesses are REQUIRED, both by GOD's direct command, and the "oath" individual JWs make to GOD when joining the WatchTower Cult, to report any sinful conduct on the part of a fellow JW to WatchTower leaders. This REQUIREMENT supersedes any other oath, promise, or contract which the individual JW has made, or will make, to any insignificant humans or human institutions which are going to be destroyed anyway at the coming any-day-now Armageddon.
Employers who still don't "get it", and naively believe that the threat of termination, or even the threat of being sued for damages, is a deterrent to such a breach of confidentiality, simply do not comprehend the Jehovah's Witness mentality. The vast majority of JWs would jump at the chance to suffer "martyrdom" for their cause. These are the same people who refuse to consent to life-saving blood transfusions for either themselves, their spouses, or their dying children. These are the same people who have gone door-knocking every weekend for the past 10, 20, 30, or more years, and have never made a single convert. JWs believe in "salvation by works", not "salvation by faith". Like Muslims, martyrdom is the closest thing that JWs have to an assurance of personal salvation.
After that revealing and shocking WATCHTOWER magazine article was published in September 1987 (actually released several weeks prior to the publication date), on August 27, 1987, the Los Angeles Times published an article entitled: CHURCH TOLD TO BREAK PRIVACY, REPORT 'SINNER'. In part:
Jehovah's Witnesses are being told for the first time (Contextually misleading. As a JW child, I was taught the basic principle of mandatory ratting out of fellow JWs in the 1960s.) that they should violate confidentiality requirements in medical, legal and other professions when one of their own members is discovered to have committed a serious sin. ... ...
The 3.3 million members worldwide, including 745,000 active U.S. Jehovah's Witnesses, are advised to confront the sinner first, but if he or she is unrepentant, the sinner's elders should be told "because of the superior demands of divine law." ... ... ...
The magazine used a hypothetical case of "Mary," a medical assistant, discovering that a fellow Witness had had an abortion. "Did she have a scriptural responsibility to expose this information to elders in the congregation, even though it might lead to (Mary) losing her job, to her being sued, or to her employer's having legal problems?" the article asked.
The answer was yes, and Witnesses were advised to determine, before pledging confidentiality in their jobs, "what problems this may produce because of any conflict with Bible requirements." ... ... ...
Regarding the confidential client relationships required of attorneys and physicians, William Van De Wall, a Witness headquarters spokesman, said Wednesday that "in the majority of cases" both the professional and the client could protect themselves.
"At the community level, most patients who seek out an attorney or doctor would know if they were of the same religion. If a Witness wanted to avoid telling him something, he would seek someone else. And as long as the doctors and attorneys make known their positions when they get the client, that should eliminate the problem," Van De Wall said in a telephone interview.
Van De Wall confirmed that someone who contracted venereal disease or AIDS through sexual promiscuity would be considered to have sinned. Other serious offenses, he said, could include drug abuse, contributing to a sperm bank or receiving artificial insemination, or, if unmarried, obtaining a vasectomy or prescription for birth control pills.
Both Van De Wall and the published guidelines suggested that reporting on an erring member can have a happy ending -- with the offender confessing the sin and receiving counseling. ... ... ...
Raymond Franz, a nine-year member of the Watchtower Society's governing body until he resigned under pressure in 1980, said: "The governing body knows that some little statement made by it will be converted into something mammoth by the time it gets to the [local] elders. No area of personal life is beyond their reach and rulings."
Franz, who lives in Winston, Ga., also disputed the idea "that those people going to the elders are going to be treated lovingly. So often people find they were dealt with in demeaning ways." Franz was disfellowshipped at the end of 1981 in a case involving his changed views of the organization's theology.
After that LA Times article was published, and republished in other newspapers, this 1987 Associated Press article was released and published in multiple newspapers across the United States. In part:
To keep their congregations "clean", Jehovah's Witnesses are being told to breach oaths of confidentiality when and if they discover that other members of the faith committed serious sins.
An article in the Sept. 1 issue of the [WatchTower Society's] magazine Watchtower spells out guidelines for violating confidentiality requirements in medical, legal and other professions when a serious sin is known to have been committed. ... ...
[Jehovah's] Witnesses were advised to confront the sinner first. But if repentance does not take place, it says, the sinner's elders should be told "because of the superior demands of divine law".
Jehovah's Witnesses ... maintain a war of Armageddon will rid the Earth of all its wickedness in this generation.
The group last year [1985-6] expelled, or "disfellowshipped", 37,426 members -- one for every six it took in.
In February 1988, the American Bar Association's ABA JOURNAL also published an article addressing how this newly revealed WatchTower teaching on "confidentiality" impacted the legal profession. The article subtitled, "JEHOVAH'S WITNESS LAWYERS, WORKERS FACE DILEMMA", stated in part:
Jehovah's Witness lawyers now find themselves torn between a new doctrine of their faith (Wrong! It wasn't new. It was just newly revealed to non-JWs.) and their profession's rules of ethical conduct.
In September, the religion, through its official magazine, The Watchtower, directed ... [Jehovah's] Witnesses worldwide ... , to inform the board of elders of their local congregation if they learn of a fellow [Jehovah's] Witness violating church doctrine. Once "sins" are reported, the elders must investigate to help "keep the congregation clean".
The [Jehovah's] Witness lawyers' dilemma arises when clients of their faith reveal confidences to them. ...
The (not) new religious tenet affects any [Jehovah's] Witness employee, such as a secretary, who has access to sensitive information about fellow [Jehovah's] Witness employees.
Once the confidence is revealed, [Jehovah's] Witness lawyers are to encourage clients to confess to the elders.
But if the clients refuse, the lawyer is required by the church to inform the elders. ...
On the other hand, lawyers who inform on their religious brethren may (would) be violating the client confidentiality rule and risk having their law license suspended, ... ... ... ... ...
Because there are probably no more than 100 [Jehovah's] Witness lawyers nationwide, the potential conflict is more widespread among [Jehovah's] Witness employees who have access to company personnel files.
For example, law-firm employees are told they must maintain client secrets, and they can be fired or sued for breaching confidentiality. According to the church doctrine, however, a [Jehovah's] Witness employee is obligated to disregard the employer's instruction if the [JW] employee wishes to remain in good standing with the church. ... ...
The whole issue of [Jehovah's] Witnesses as employees presents a dilemma for employers. If a [Jehovah's] Witness is hired and reveals privileged information, the employer can be sued for invasion of privacy.
But if the employer refuses to hire a [Jehovah's] Witness based on religion, he is violating federal law ...
William Van De Wall, a [Jehovah's] Witness spokesman at the Brooklyn-based Watchtower Society, said [Jehovah's] Witnesses are a close-knit group and typically know all the other adherents in their community. (Again, this was 1987.) He suggested that a [Jehovah's] Witness who doesn't want to risk exposure of secrets can go to a law firm that does not employ Jehovah's Witnesses.
In the February 1, 1988, edition of The Hastings Center Report, an article authored by Courtney S. Campbell, entitled, THE PURE CHURCH AND THE PROBLEM OF CONFIDENTIALITY, insightfully addressed how the newly revealed WatchTower teaching on "confidentiality" impacted the medical profession. The article stated in part:
The Jehovah's Witnesses have always been a morally interesting religious congregation for medical ethicists because of their practice of refusing life-saving blood transfusions based on the community's interpretation of Biblical injunctions against "eating blood." An article in a recent Watchtower (September 1, 1987, 12-15) indicates another religious requirement of practicing [Jehovah's] Witnesses [that] may produce moral and legal conflict in the medical setting: Jehovah's Witnesses employed as health care workers may be obligated to violate institutional, professional, or legal requirements protecting patient confidentiality of fellow [Jehovah's] Witnesses. The "superior demands of divine law" can necessitate occasions when a [Jehovah's] Witness would "strain or even breach the requirements of confidentiality" for two related purposes: (1) To aid an "apparent" sinner, and (2) to preserve the purity and cleanliness of the congregation. ... ...
Biblical principles that might require a violation of medical confidentiality include responsibility for disclosure of personal "serious wrongdoing," and the oaths and promises made by confessing congregants to "keep the congregation clean, both by what they do personally and by the way they help others to remain clean." Depending on the strength of the evidence of wrongdoing in the situation, such Biblical principles can override the requirements of privacy and confidentiality of medical records. Thus, citing the famous passage from Acts 5 that is so often used to justify religious exemption from legal requirements, the argument holds that when "promises required by men are in conflict with the requirement that [Jehovah's Witnesses] render exclusive devotion to God," the [Jehovah's] Witness must accept his or her responsibility to "obey God as ruler rather than man."
[Jehovah's] Witnesses are counseled that employers have a right to expect the observance of rules on confidentiality from their employees. As a corollary, this means that prior to accepting employment that includes confidentiality restrictions, the [Jehovah's] Witness should determine the extent to which these professional and legal requirements may conflict with scriptural mandates. One important question here, given the possibility of litigation against an employer for breaches of confidentiality, is whether the [Jehovah's] Witness would have an obligation to disclose to a prospective employer in the health (or legal) setting that situations might arise in which he or she would feel religiously bound to violate such rules. ... ... ...
The following CONFIDENTIALITY scenario was found posted on a public discussion board by a former JW:
Pre-HIPPA there was a case at our local hospital where [a Jehovah's Witness] CNA (certified nursing assistant) learned a newly baptized member was receiving a blood transfusion. She called the elders immediately, without regard for the fact that she would definitely lose her job - the thought never occurred to her that she was breaking confidentiality. There were extenuating circumstances, and fortunately, this person receiving the transfusion had a hospital rep call me. I let the elders know, without a doubt, that there would be basically 'hell to pay' if they DF'd this poor woman. This newly baptized person was mildly mentally retarded, high functioning enough to live independently with help from her non-JW family (who would have cut her off completely had they known she became a JW). I asked the elders if they were prepared to take over complete financial responsibility and care of this person, because if the elders intervened at the hospital, this woman's family would abandon her completely. And I also reminded them that the hospital and the family could sue the sister who revealed the confidential information. (Had this been post HIPPA, this CNA sister would have faced termination of employment and possible criminal and financial charges.) All of this was just a little too overwhelming for them, especially since the sister receiving the transfusion had sort of fallen through the cracks and had no contact with the local congregation for about a year - she had moved in with her elderly parents to care for them in a remote area and the congregation took on an 'out of sight, out of mind' attitude about her existence. Bottom line - the fear of displeasing the Borg is so great that man rank and file JWs will breach confidentiality and cannot be trusted!
The following CONFIDENTIALITY item was found posted on a public discussion board by a former JW:
This happened back in the 80's, and I'm sorry to say that I was the one who breached confidentiality. Back then I sold life insurance, and a sister from another congregation called me because she wanted life insurance on her husband. The life company ordered a urine sample, and I got a report back that it had a heavy nicotine concentration. Stupid me -- I called the sister (instead of the husband) stating that we needed another test because the company probably got the wrong sample, and suggested that we take another sample. To make a long story short, he decided not to take the policy stating he would rather do business with another company. Then I got a call from the sister's father (an elder) asking me if I had any idea why his son-in-law was turned down for insurance. I did not reveal any information to him, but ended up asking a local elder for advice, who advised me to write to the Society. In my letter to the Society (I still have a copy) I wrote that I was required by law not to divulge confidential information (although that was exactly what I was doing), but felt the elders in his congregation might need to know these things. I stated that I hoped that by writing to the Society that somehow this information would not be traced back to me.
Watchtower's responses to my letter:
The first response came two weeks later commending me for my "fine spirit in wanting to care for this matter properly."
The second letter came 11 months later, and the second paragraph was very interesting. It stated:
"It is not within the province of the Society nor of the elders to tell individuals what they should do when working in employment requiring them to maintain confidentiality. Each one will have to be responsible for his own actions before Jehovah. It is necessary to preserve one's relationship with Jehovah and to protect the organization, but each one will have to bear his own load of responsibility in this area. The Scriptures plainly teach that there is nothing hidden that will not be revealed and no one can indefinitely continue to deceive Jehovah, his organization or their congregation with which he might be associated. The decision to reveal confidential information concerning possible wrongdoing on the part of a person claiming to be a Christian ultimately rests with the person who has come to know of it."
Of course, the letter ended with "warm Christian love and best wishes." C___'s response when he read the letter was that it looked like they were trying to absolve themselves of any responsibility. I went against his advice not to have written my letter in the first place, and now when I look at it, it's hard to understand why I bothered.. Recently, I saw a known JW smoking at his workplace and never gave a thought to turning him in. I never had a conversation with this sister after this about the matter, but did learn that she did end up with a new husband.
"Its so exciting to be able to speak with someone while you're at work. Its a nice break from the typical monotony of it. Every once in a while my boss will bring something up. I've given him the All Scriptures Are Inspired book, and he seemed to really like it. Sometimes I really wish I could preach to the people on the phone though, because they're in pretty rough condition most of the time. Sometimes I can see on their profiles from the doctor that they're Jehovah's Witnesses, and I wish I could say something to them, but with all the HIPAA craziness, I wouldn't want to lose my job over it at this point."
"OTHER" BREACHES OF CONFIDENTIALITY
BY WATCHTOWER SOCIETY HOSPITAL LIAISON COMMITTEE MEMBERS,
BY JEHOVAH'S WITNESS ELDERS, AND BY OTHER JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES
Those readers who fully grasp the entirety of this extremely serious risk management issue will be surprised whenever any of such breaches of confidentiality see the light of day. It is the very nature of this "beast" that occurrences of breach of confidentiality very rarely, if ever, become known to its victim. The incident above reported in MEDICAL ECONOMICS magazine is one of the very few. A second incident which amazingly saw the light of day comes to us from Australia.. Bear in mind that Australia, like the United States, is a former British colony whose laws are also grounded in English common law.
PATTON v. VICTORIAN DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN SERVICES was a 2002-2004 case involving a Jehovah's Witness named William Patton. Patton was an "Elder" in his local JW congregation. In 2002, Patton had been employed for more than 13 years with a "state" Department of Human Services, in the section engaged in the child protection function. In October 2002, while on the job, Patton received a telephone call from a "Mrs. W". "Mrs. W" identified herself as a fellow Jehovah's Witness. The purpose of "Mrs. W's" telephone call was to obtain information pertaining to child custody proceedings between her son and former daughter-in-law, and their four children. "Mrs. W" made sure that Patton was aware that her former daughter-in-law had been disfellowshiped (excommunicated) from the Jehovah's Witnesses. "Mrs. W" was particularly concerned that her former daughter-in-law had accused her son of sexually abusing one of his sons. Despite the fact that the topic of conversation did not involve Patton's specific job function, the telephone call between Patton and "Mrs. W" lasted 90 minutes in length. An audit of the DHS computer system revealed that Patton accessed the family's file during the 90 minute telephone call, and again after the call ended. Neither access was documented by Patton. The telephone conversation ended with Patton giving "Mrs. W" his home telephone number. During the later investigation, both Patton and "Mrs. W" lied about what all was discussed during that telephone conversation.
After the telephone call, "Mrs. W" inadvertently revealed some of the obtained information and its' source to "Mrs. M", who was the Mother of "Mrs. W's" former daughter-in-law. This would seem to indicate that "Mrs. W", "Mrs. M", and the father of the children were all Jehovah's Witnesses, who were all conspiring against the disfellowshiped former daughter-in-law. "Mrs. M" thereafter passed the info along to her daughter ("Mrs D"). "Mrs D" contacted Patton's supervisor on the day before his annual vacation started. Evidently, "Mrs D" did a poor job communicating the breach of confidentiality to Patton's supervisor, and Patton himself evidently lied to the supervisor, since the supervisor consented to Patton's request to allow him to telephone "Mrs D" to resolve her complaint. The supervisor left for vacation without further discussing the matter with Patton. A few days after Patton's call to "Mrs D", she again complained to the supervisor's replacement, and this time an internal investigation was initiated.
Patton was suspended during the lengthy 8 months DHS investigation, which ended with Patton being fired due to his accessing records which he had no authority to access; Patton's failure to document said access; and Patton's unauthorized disclosure of confidential information.
Thereafter, Patton had the gall to file a "wrongful discharge" case with the Australian Industrial Relations Commission, which proceeded to both rule in DHS's favor, as well as confirm that Patton intentionally disclosed his employer's confidential information to a fellow Jehovah's Witness, in order to harm a disfellowshiped JW; plus Patton and the Jehovah's Witness to whom he disclosed the confidential info both subsequently LIED to cover up the crime.
[JW Defendant] is described by [JW Family] as a director of the [WatchTower Defendant]. There is no evidence before the Tribunal to that effect. Certainly he is an elder of the [Congregation] and as I (Noreen Megay) said earlier, he might, repeat might, be said to be its agent although that was not put [into evidence] by [JW Family]. But on the evidence before the Tribunal he is not amenable to this application. He is not an "organisation" contemplated by the legislation, nor is he a health service provider; he does not collect, hold or use health information.
Whether or not what was taken down was personal information as defined (and it may have been), it is not evidence that [the WatchTower Defendant] collects, holds or uses health information. Nor can the Tribunal be satisfied as to the identity or authority of the first aid officer or, indeed, the accuracy of her alleged statement.
The attachment in question is headed "Information about the patient that you need before contacting the HLC" and seeks a range of information, most of which, if answered, would constitute personal information. But to whom this is directed, what authority the author has, from what document it is extracted, is not known to the Tribunal. It certainly does not constitute evidence that [the WatchTower Defendant] collects, holds or uses health information. Mr. [PETER] LINKE, [a 44 year long JW Elder and head of the Victoria HLC who the WatchTower Society called as a witness to testify on their behalf] who has had decades of experience in relation to hospital liaison committees was not aware of the instruction document (but did not deny that it might have existed) and was emphatic that no records were required or kept. The Tribunal accepts his evidence. It follows that the Tribunal finds that [the WatchTower Defendant] is neither an organisation nor a health service provider as those terms are defined, and it does not collect, hold or use health information as contemplated by section 11 of the Act.
This application, brought no doubt with confidence by the applicant in circumstance of great familial distress, is however entirely misconceived and should be dismissed.
No mention of "damages" occurred in the Tribunal's decision, so we don't know what JW Family sought by bringing this claim. However, if JW Family sought to make their own public disclosure about things that the WatchTower Society did not feel should be made public, then JW Family actually WON this case. This case might even have motivated the WatchTower Society to make the recently announced pending changes to the operation of HLCs. HEAVEN knows that only adversarial lawsuits will move the WatchTower Society to make necessary changes.
PATRICIA BLEDSOE v. TENNESSEE DEPARTMENT OF MENTAL HEALTH was a 2010 Tennessee federal court case. An African-American female Jehovah's Witness Employee, named Patricia Bledsoe, alleged failure to promote (racial), hostile work environment (including because of her religious beliefs), and retaliation against her state government employer, for whom she worked as a Secretary from 2000 until 2009. Pat Bledsoe also alleged additional claims of negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress under Tennessee law. The USDC granted Tennessee's motion for Summary Judgment on all federal law claims, and dismissed the associated state law claims. The lengthy USDC opinion includes this INTERESTING part:
... On March 17, 2006, Plaintiff received a written disciplinary warning for breaching employee confidentiality by showing another MMHI employee her employee performance review before the other employee's supervisor had shown it to her. ... Plaintiff initially lied to Slate and claimed that the fellow employee accidentally noticed the review on Plaintiff's desk. ... Slate found Plaintiff's dishonesty regarding the incident to be disturbing. ...
A 2011 Florida murder criminal court case turns out to be extremely enlightening with regard to how Jehovah's Witnesses view "confidentiality" when the confidentiality relates to someone who is not a fellow Jehovah's Witness.
To fully understand the significance of this case with respect to Jehovah's Witnesses and confidentiality, readers must first "get beyond" the fact that the criminal defendant murdered his own mother and deserved his arrest, conviction, and life sentence. Readers interested in the Jehovah's Witnesses and Confidentiality issue also should not get bogged down in the multiple other issues in this case. Readers should also bear in mind that this criminal's attorneys may very well appeal this decision to an even higher appellate court, which may look quite differently at the actions of the two JWs than did this court.
FLORIDA v. ELLIOTT was a 2007-11 Florida criminal court case in which Elliott was convicted of murdering his own mother. Thereafter, Elliot's counsel appealed the conviction. One of the issues on appeal was the trial court's denial of the defendant's motion "to suppress his statements to two Jehovah's Witnesses based on the clergy communications privilege."
During the murder investigation, in November 2007, Elliott was jailed on an unrelated firearm charge. While Elliott was being held at the local county jail, two Jehovah's Witness ELDERS, named Joseph Westbrook and Michael Prentice, came to visit the county jail in their capacity as Jehovah's Witness "Ministers". Elliott evidently observed and possibly overheard the JW Ministers, and Elliott motioned for them to come over to his holding cell. After receiving permission, Westbrook and Prentice entered Elliott's cell. JW Elder Michael Prentice asked Elliott what was wrong.
Elliott told the two JW Ministers that his mother had been killed, and that "they were trying to pin it on him," and that he "messed up" by disposing of her body. Elliott explained that he had been drinking for days, and that when he came home after working on his tractor, he found his mother lying in a pool of blood with no pulse.
When Elliott said that he did not want to talk about it anymore, JW Elder Michael Prentice quoted scripture about the resurrection. According to JW Elder Joseph Westbrook (this means what Westbrook stated during the trial months later), Elliott did not indicate that he was seeking spiritual counseling and guidance, and did not want to talk about the Bible or pray.
The two JW Ministers left Elliott's cell and went straight to a Deputy, and told the Deputy what Elliott had told them. The Deputy told the two JW Ministers that Elliott's mother was missing, and presumed dead; and that the authorities could not find the body; and that if Elliott was talking, then the two JW Ministers should go back and "talk to him". The two JW Ministers then went back to Elliott's cell, where JW Elder Joseph Westbrook told Elliott to "tell them where the body is because then the forensic evidence should be able to clear you and show your innocence."
Elliott was quiet for a while, and then said that he needed to talk to a lawyer. JW Minister Jospeh Westbrook brought up "the resurrection" again, and asked Elliott if he wanted to see his mother again; and referred to the [WATCHTOWER] Bible where Jesus said, "All of those in memorial tombs would come out." Westbrook noted that Elliott seemed receptive to this [ministerial] message. Westbrook asked if Elliott wanted his mother to have a decent burial, and urged him to "tell them where she's buried." Elliott responded that his mother was not buried, but was "on top of the ground", on the farm, in bones or in pieces. Elliott again said that he wanted to talk to a lawyer.
The two JW Ministers then left Elliot's cell and went straight to the aforementioned Deputy. The two JW Ministers were asked to write statements disclosing what Elliott had said to them.
The appellate court opinion states: "On the issue of confidentiality, Westbrook explained that Jehovah's Witnesses believed that if they had knowledge of a crime and did not disclose it, they would be 'a sharer in that.'"
Prior to trial, Elliott's counsel filed a motion to suppress Elliot's statements to the two Jehovah's Witnesses Ministers based on the clergy communications privilege. After holding a hearing, the trial court denied the motion to suppress, concluding that appellant's statements to the Jehovah's Witnesses "Elders" were not subject to the clergy communications privilege because (1) Elliott's conduct demonstrated that he was not seeking spiritual counsel from the two Elders, but was merely trying to get someone to listen to his side, and (2) the two Elders did not qualify as members of the clergy.
On appeal, Florida's Court of Appeal upheld the trial court's admitting of Elliot's statements to the two Jehovah's Witnesses Ministers:
Appellant claims that the trial court committed reversible error in denying his motion to suppress his statements to the Jehovah's Witnesses elders based on the clergy communications privilege. Pursuant to [Florida law], "[a] person has a privilege to refuse to disclose, and to prevent another from disclosing, a confidential communication by the person to a member of the clergy in his or her capacity as spiritual adviser." For the clergy communications privilege to apply, four requirements must be satisfied: (1) the communication must be made to a "member of the clergy," as defined in the statute; (2) the statement must be "made . . . for the purpose of seeking spiritual counsel and advice"; (3) the information must be received "in the usual course of [the clergy member's] practice or discipline"; and (4) the communication must be "made privately," and "not intended for further disclosure except to other persons present in furtherance of the communication."
The trial court found that appellant's statements to the elders failed to satisfy the first two requirements. On appeal, the state concedes that one could "reasonably believe" that Jehovah's Witnesses elders qualify as members of the clergy. Assuming for the sake of argument that the elders were members of the clergy, we agree with the trial court that appellant's statements to the elders were not made "for the purpose of seeking spiritual counsel and advice." ... According to elder Westbrook, appellant did not indicate that he was seeking spiritual counseling and guidance and did not want to talk about the Bible or pray. The trial court could conclude that appellant's words and actions indicated that he was not seeking spiritual advice or counseling, but was trying to explain his side of the story.
Although not addressed by the trial court or the parties on appeal, we also believe that the evidence failed to establish that appellant's communications were either "made privately" or "not intended for further disclosure except to persons present in furtherance of the communication." First, the conversations took place in a jail holding cell, which is not usually considered a place for private communications. Furthermore, it is clear from elder Westbrook's testimony that he did not consider the conversations with appellant to be confidential, and there was no testimony that Westbrook told appellant that the conversations would be confidential. In fact, the exchange between appellant and the elders resembled an interrogation, with the elders repeatedly encouraging appellant to tell the authorities where his mother's body was buried and appellant repeatedly telling them that he needed to talk to a lawyer. Accordingly, we conclude that the trial court correctly found that appellant's statements to the elders were not subject to the clergy communications privilege.
WITHIN THE WATCHTOWER SOCIETY and CONGREGATIONS OF JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES
For decades, the WatchTower Society has professed that it requires its Jehovah's Witness Elders to maintain strict "clergy confidentiality" -- without using that "worldly" terminology. In reality, about the only time that a JW member can be certain that their JW Elders will maintain strict confidentiality is when a Public Prosecutor requests that JW Elders assist with the prosecution of a Jehovah's Witness who has been charged with a crime -- particularly child molesters. Posted below are merely a sampling of certain prosecutions during which the Prosecutor had to get the court to order the defendant's local JW Elders to cooperate in the prosecution of a local Jehovah's Witness.
Otherwise, "confidentiality" within many congregations of Jehovah's Witnesses is a joke. In many congregations, family members and close friends of congregation Elders and Ministerial Servants generally know most details about internal congregation business and congregation members' personal problems. Back in the 1990s, when this Editor was an active JW, I once approached a Newly Baptized Publisher after the Sunday meeting merely to see "how things were going". NBP was NOT in a very good mood. The adult male NBP related that he had come out for field service on the previous Saturday morning, and that he had been invited to accompany a van load of Elders and Ministerial Servants. NBP related that the van load of Elders and Ministerial Servants had spent most of their morning GOSSIPING about various congregation members -- including spending much time discussing the personal shortcomings of one older male in the congregation whom the Elders and Ministerial Servants "talked about like a dog". NBP wondered out loud how long it would be before these same local Elders and Ministerial Servants would start talking about him behind his back in front of just anyone. It was obvious from NBP's further remarks and demeanor that he was second guessing his very decision to become a Jehovah's Witness. NBP eventually disassociated himself.
An Informant, whom had previously authored on the topic of "clergy confidentiality", relates that, in 2001 during a conversation that he was having with Daniel Hosier, who is a multi-decades long Jehovah's Witness Elder in congregations in both New York state and Kentucky, Hosier volunteered to Informant that, "HE TOLD HIS WIFE EVERYTHING -- NOT JUST "SOME" THINGs -- EVERYTHING." "Everything" included all congregation business, everything he was told by other JWs, and even what occurred and was said during internal Judicial Committee Hearings and the conducting of other congregation business. Informant relates that he was SHOCKED at the simple stupidity of such, and that he immediately objected to Dan Hosier's "personal policy" not to keep "confidential information" secret from his JW Wife, including pointing out to this multi-decades long "ELDER" that his personal policy VIOLATED the WatchTower Society's teachings. Even that last reason could not budge Daniel Hosier from his entrenched position. Daniel Hosier further stated that he had always informed his fellow JW Elders and the WatchTower Society's Circuit Overseers (District Sales Managers) of this practice, and that he believed that the Bible taught that husbands were not permitted to keep any secrets from their wives, since they had become "one" at the time they were married. Informant recalls that Hosier related other "scriptural" reasoning that he has now long forgotten which supposedly overruled the WatchTower Society's own teachings and justified Hosier's position. Hosier claimed that both his fellow JW Elders and the WatchTower Society's Circuit Overseer's were and had been "OK" with his "personal decisions" to both disagree with and violate WatchTower Society teachings. (Informant relates that he eventually learned about one alleged incident that Hosier likely had kept secret from his wife -- at least until such alleged incident was disclosed to Hosier's fellow Elders.)
"[JW ELDER] submits that any evidence that he could give in this matter would fall within the ambit of privileged religious communications and he should be protected from having to disclose these communications."
Initially it is important to address and resolve two issues: (1) Were the communications which passed between the two complainants, the Accused[, and] the Applicant of a religious or spiritual nature? (2) Did one or more of the communicators or "confiders" have a reasonable expectation or confidence that their communications would not be disclosed?
On the first issue we have, of course, only the evidence of the Applicant as to the nature of the discussions between the two complainants, the Accused, and him. We know that [original complainant's] husband called the Applicant on December 13, 1998. We presume he called the Applicant recognizing his position as an Elder and overseer in the congregation. This was not directly addressed in the evidence, but I am prepared to make that assumption. At that initial meeting there was an allegation made that someone had assaulted her. The Applicant asserts that the communication was made in "confidence" to us. All three of them then prayed and read the bible. (Edit: Two Elders and original complainant. It is assumed that complainant's husband was also present.) There was no other evidence of what transpired at that initial meeting.
All we know of the communications between [original complainant] and the two Elders is that she told them that someone had assaulted her. There is no suggestion that she was, in her view, blameworthy of any immoral or improper conduct. One is then forced to ask oneself why would she need religious comfort or assurances. She had nothing to be ashamed of. Granted, she may have need emotional support and it is possible that she needed spiritual comfort. However, the evidence shows that she had already discussed "the allegations with at least one other individual". The Applicant said he was not the first to know. The evidence did not disclose the identity of that other person, but I think it is safe to assume that it was not an Elder of the church.
The Applicant and at least one other met with the other complainant [original complainant's sister] and the Accused prior to the meeting of the judicial committee. It appears that these meetings were initiated by either the Applicant or other Elders. There is no evidence that any of these communications were of a spiritual or religious nature. The other complainant [original complainant's sister] is not a baptized adherent of this church. It is difficult to understand why she would engage in conversations of a religious nature, especially where she did not originate the contact.
I have similar difficulties about the participation of the Accused in any of these meetings. The Applicant reiterated on a number of occasions that the Accused either said nothing or if he did say anything to them, it did not amount to an admission or confession. My feeling is that the Accused was less than a willing participant in any of these proceedings.
On the second issue of an expectation of confidentiality, I have concluded that this did not exist. To begin with, [original complainant] had obviously discussed matters with someone else. Obviously, her husband also knew of the allegations. In addition, she was apparently a long-time member of the congregation and would no doubt be aware of the process which would be used by the Elders once such an allegation came to light. I cannot see how she could have, under the circumstances, any expectancy of privacy or confidentiality.
Even if she initially might have had some expectation of confidentiality, it is difficult to see how this could have continued beyond the initial contact. From the evidence of the Applicant, it is clear that as many as eight or probably more Elders, some of whom were from outside of the congregation, were aware of the allegations and aware of the parties involved. In my view, even if there had been some initial expectation of confidentiality, that was quickly dispelled once the Applicant and others commenced their investigation and their gathering of evidence.
The same is true for the other complainant [original complainant's sister] and the Accused. It is unrealistic to assume that a non-adherent of the faith would expect confidentiality. Likewise, it is not plausible that the Accused would expect it. Even if there could have been any expectation of confidentiality at the beginning, obviously, this disappeared once the Elders became involved. The Applicant himself confirmed that the ultimate aim of the judicial committee was to "establish guilt". The Elders pursued an active investigation; they interviewed people; they advised people of the charges and the names of those involved; they brought in outside Elders from Botwood and then finally, after all of this had been discussed, an announcement was made that the Accused was "disfellowshipped from the congregation". In my opinion, all of this activity, including the act of pursuit of "evidence", is the exact antithesis of confidentiality.
I am convinced that the touchstone of confidentiality required to bring in to play the four criteria enunciated by Wigmore is not at all present in this case. This is a far cry from the situation referred to in Fosty by Madam Justice L'Heureux-Dube when she talks of disclosure "to a spiritual counselor in total and absolute confidence".
In my view, the Applicant has failed to discharge the onus on him to justify the quashing of the subpoena and he must obey it.
Despite Judge Moreland's ruling, the JW Elders still refused to make any statements to the police until just hours before they were called to testify, which they finally did. At trial, in July 2013, Gordon Leighton once again denied accusations that he had sexually molested his daughter, Rachel, and denied that he had confessed to such during the "judicial committee meeting". A jury listened to the evidence for six days, including Leighton's repeated denials. Gordon Leighton was found guilty on two counts of indecency with a child, and six counts of indecent assault. Leighton was also found guilty on the more recent assault charge. Leighton was sentenced to 13 years in prison.
DIVORCE, BLOOD TRANSUSIONS, AND OTHER LEGAL ISSUES AFFECTING CHILDREN OF JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES
EMPLOYMENT ISSUES UNIQUE TO JEHOVAH'S WITNESS EMPLOYEES