THE WELLSBURG, WEST VIRGINIA "AMERICAN FLAG" INCIDENT
YET ANOTHER INSTANCE OF JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES PUTTING INTO PRACTICE
WHAT CULT OFFICIALS SECRETLY TAUGHT BEHIND THE SCENES ABOUT THE AMERICAN FLAG
In October-September 1961, in Wellsburg, West Virginia, a week-long nationwide MEDIA UPROAR occurred when two families of Jehovah's Witnesses protested that they had been denied FREE GOVERNMENT SURPLUS FOOD by the local head of the Salvation Army, which was charged with the distribution of such from the Salvation Army's Wellsburg facility by the State of West Virginia.
The local head of the Salvation Army, Envoy Paul R. Messinger, a West Virginia native, married father of two teenagers, and longtime SA official, attempted to explain that he had denied the free government surplus food to the two Jehovah's Witness Families only after the two Jehovah's Witness Families had refused to take the mandatory food preparation classes. Paul Messinger alleged that the two Jehovah's Witness Families had demanded that the American Flag first be REMOVED from the room where the mandatory food preparation classes were held. When he refused their demand, they refused to take the mandatory class. Messinger, in turn, then denied them the free government surplus food.
However, once the stench hit the newspapers, the experienced WatchTower Cult handled this situation much better than did the Salvation Army, or Paul Messinger. Undoubtedly, WatchTower HQ typically contacted the local Congregation Servant, named David Moore, and straightened him out -- if he was the idiot behind this mess. In any event, Dave Moore and another Jehovah's Witness, named Edward Johnson (unknown if a local JW or a WatchTower official), went to talk with Paul Messinger. Moore and Johnson DENIED that the flag removal request had even occurred. Making him out to be a LIAR, Messinger became enraged, called the two JWs "Communists", and ordered them to leave.
WatchTower HQ spokepersons also denied to reporters that the flag removal request had even occurred, and as evidence of such pointed out to reporters that American and state flags were often seen flying at venues that they rented for conventions and assemblies.
When the liberal newspaper reporters came calling on the controversy-inexperienced Messinger, instead of sticking with the flag removal incident, Messinger got caught up in demonstrating his patriotism to those reporters. Messinger was quoted first as proclaiming, "These people are adhering to a movement that teaches lack of respect for the American flag, and they should not receive food from the Government."
Possibly after hearing from SA officials, Messinger told reporters that he would provide the free food to the JWs if they would acknowledge the SA's right to fly the American Flag at their facility.
Then, West Virginia State Welfare Director W. Bernard Smith released a statement that if any attempt was made to withhold free food from any qualified recipient "for religious or any other reasons" that agency would lose the right to distribute food. "We would revoke the distribution powers from any agency which tries to impose its own rules. The income of the recipient is the only determining factor."
After Messinger got his arse chewed out by SA officials, Messinger issued another statement in which he publicly acknowledged that the two Jehovah's Witness Families were entitled to the government surplus food. Messinger related that his action had been a person decision, and was not based on any position held by the Salvation Army or the state or federal governments. Messinger explained, "I am an American who loves the flag and is ever conscious of what it represents. It has cost America's finest to keep it flying."
Probably after receiving some local support for what he had done, and for what he was stating to the media, Messinger again stepped-in-it, and proclaimed that he personally refused to serve the Jehovah's Witnesses, but would have other SA staff do so. The Salvation Army then announced that Paul R. Messinger was being transferred to their Cumberland, Maryland location.
IN RE JENNINGS was a habeas corpus action filed in January 1945 by an imprisoned Jehovah's Witness, named Charles Jennings. Jennings accused the warden at Pennsylvania's Eastern State Penitentiary of discriminating against him by taking away his WatchTower Society religious literature, when other prisoners were permitted to possess literature of their own denominations. Given that JW Minister Jennings had been in prison only 14 weeks at the time he decided to filed this action, it would appear that Jennings was someone who demanded immediate attention to his legal rights. Interested in knowing why Jennings was in prison? In October 1944, Charles Jennings, alias Charles Conniffe, had been sentenced to 5-10 years for a single armed robbery, which he and another short-term acquaintance had committed during an interstate armed robbery spree back in 1930. Jennings decided to plead guilty to the single charge after he was confronted in court by the accomplice, who after serving 10 years for the crime had moved to Canada.
In 1942 and 1943, and possibly in other years, 100s or possibly even 1000s of Canadian Jehovah's Witnesses illegally crossed the Canada-United States border so that they could attend WatchTower Conventions, which evidently had been intentionally scheduled in major cities near the Canadian border because Canadian JWs were not allowed by law to hold WatchTower Conventions during WW2.
In September 1942, 26 illegal Canadian JWs were arrested on Grand Island, near Cleveland, Ohio. The 26 JWs had illegally entered the U.S. to attend a WatchTower Convention in Cleveland, and were returning to Canada with WatchTower literature that was illegal under Canadian wartime laws. Also, in September 1942, another Canadian was arrested at the Bismarck, ND convention.
The 1942 incidents having made the government aware, in 1943, multiple groups of Canadian JWs were arrested while illegally crossing at various points, including 22 arrested near Noyes, Minnesota; 10 near Williston, North Dakota; 26 near Minot, North Dakota; an undetermined number in Montana; and even two who rowed in a small boat from Sault Saint Marie. Then, in September 1943, 68 Canadian JWs were discovered being hidden at a farm near Pine Creek, Minnesota, waiting for a good time to sneak back into Canada. One of the Canadian JWs, who was a "leader", defiantly stated:
"We know it was against the law to cross the border without getting consent from the authorities, but Jehovah called us, and we came."
Interestingly, I can find no indication that these cases of illegal entry into the United States during wartime, which had penalties of up to a $5000.00 fine ($50-60,000.00 in today's money), and six months in prison, were ever prosecuted, or if so, were bargained down to insignificance.
In May 1936, a Livingston, California Jehovah's Witness, named Fraulein Adolph Baker, slipped-up when explaining to a reporter from THE FRESNO BEE why she would not permit her children to recite the Pledge Of Allegiance. Rather than providing the more palatable excuse that the WatchTower Society had trained JWs to give publicly, i.e., that the American Flag was an "idol", and saluting the Flag was worshipping an idol, Fraulein Baker instead told the BEE reporter the actual reason that JWs refused to recite the Pledge of Allegiance:
"Jehovah's Witnesses cannot give allegiance to the Kingdom of the Devil."
In October 1938, two Delhi, California schoolchildren started refusing to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. The county Superintendent went to the JW parents and discussed the issue. After listening to the parents regurgitate the WatchTower Society's made-up PR argument that pledging allegiance to the flag was an act of false worship to an "idol", the Superintendent suggested that the children simply not repeat the words "the flag of", and "and the country for which it stands", so that the children would merely be pledging allegiance to their country, and not the flag, which serves merely as a symbol of the United States. That compromise wording was acceptable to the parents, and the children complied the next schoolday. However, the children thereafter again stopped even repeating the compromise wording after local JW leaders apparently learned of such, which goes to show that the WatchTower Society's real reason for opposing the Pledge is because Jehovah's Witnesses actually oppose the country and its government, and refuse to allow their members to exhibit any allegiance to such.
MICHIGAN v. RAYMOND RAFALSKI was a July 1940 criminal court case in which this 21 year-old Jehovah's Witness, whom reported his residence as Gardner, Massachusetts, was charged with "contempt of the American flag", after Ray Rafalski stated to a local police officer, "Why should I salute that rag?" Rafalski was convicted at trial, and sentenced to a $100.00 fine, plus 60 days in jail. No hurry to appeal that one.
THE UNTOLD REST OF THE CARLETON NICHOLS FLAG SALUTE STORY
Whenever the full historical version of the Jehovah's Witnesses and the Pledge of Allegiance controversy is told, by the WatchTower Society or sympathizers, it generally is merely briefly mentioned that the fight started in 1935, after an 8 year-old Massachusetts schoolboy, named Carleton Nichols, refused to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Sometimes the author will mention that young Nichols referred to the American Flag as "the emblem of the Devil". Rarely is the boy's father, Carleton Nichols, Sr., mentioned in such articles. Practically NEVER is the role of Edward Holton James in this story mentioned by authors or reporters who are have the liberal agenda of re-writing history to favor the Jehovah's Witnesses.
After Judge Rutherford instructed his followers at the 1935 summer WatchTower Convention that Jehovah's Witness schoolchildren should not recite the Pledge of Allegiance, the only question that remained was which JW child would be the first martyr after the new school year started that Fall. On Friday, September 20, 1935, 8 year-old Carleton Nichols, Jr. refused to recite the Pledge of Allegiance at the weekly assembly held at Breed Elementary School in Lynn, Massachusetts. On September 24, the Lynn School Board took up the matter, but rather than suspending Nichols, the Board decided to wait to see whether Nichols could be convinced to recite the Pledge during the next weekly assembly on September 27.
On Friday, September 27, the Nichols intentionally kept Junior home from school. On Monday, September 30, Carleton Nichols, Sr. and Edward Holton James, of Concord, accompanied Junior to school, because they evidently knew that Junior's third-grade teacher had been instructed to start conducting a daily Pledge of Allegiance ceremony in the classroom. Nichols Sr. and Edward James were there to support Junior's "demonstration", and to supposedly explain why Junior was refusing to recite the Pledge, as if noone knew by that point.
When Miss Yvonne Brooks directed the class to rise from their seats and recite the Pledge, Junior, Senior, and James all remained in their seats. The school's Principal, William Pashby, who was also present for the "event", twice asked/ordered the trio to rise to their feet. The trio twice refused. Pashby, a World War I veteran, then declared, "I will stand for no such insult to the American Flag," and then he ordered Senior and James to leave school premises. They refused to leave "public property", so Pashby called the Lynn Police Department, who responded and arrested Senior and James for trespassing and disturbing the peace.
After Senior and James had been removed from the classroom by the Police, Miss Brooks again attempted the Pledge ceremony, but again Junior refused to participate. Junior was sent to the rear cloakroom, while the rest of the class recited the Pledge. Principal Pashby decided not to suspend Junior, but rather to wait for the matter to be handled by the Lynn School Board at its next meeting on October 8.
Junior was suspended at that October 8th meeting, but the Board made it clear that Junior was welcome back at school whenever he was willing to recite the Pledge. WatchTower Attorney Olin Moyle was present to represent the Nichols family. The ACLU also offered its' assistance.
COMMONWEALTH v. NICHOLS and COMMONWEALTH v. JAMES. Nichols and James pled "not guilty" to the charges of "trespassing" and "disturbing the peace". They were released on $200 bail, and ordered to appear in Lynn District Court the next day. They are given a continuance on October 1, so that they could obtain legal representation, despite the fact that E. H. James was supposedly an attorney (whether in good standing at the time is not known). On October 9, Nichols and James were each convicted and fined $25.00. James paid his fine. Nichols appealed the decision, with the threat that he would appeal "all the way to the highest court in the land". Nichols dropped his appeal only a couple weeks later, probably after WatchTower attorneys convinced him that pursuing his case would damage his son's case.
Thereafter, E. H. James, who apparently had been in communication with Judge Rutherford at WatchTower world headquarters, announced that Rutherford had given him his blessing to open "Jehovah's School" in Massachusetts, which would be a school where Jehovah's Witness children and others would not be required to recite the Pledge. I'm not sure how James and Rutherford were planning on getting around the state's compulsory flag salute law, or get certified. But, at any rate, it appears that the "Kingdom Schools" which later developed in other states may have been the "brainchild" of Edward H. James, who was not even a Jehovah's Witness.
Who, then, was "Edward Holton James", and what did he have to do with this Jehovah's Witness drama? Rather than waste space on this webpage, and ruin the fun of reseachers actually interested in who was Edward Holton James, permit me to limit my description to a few scattered "teasors".
Some in James' day labeled James an international "anarchist". James denied such, but his various activities at least attracted the label, whether correct or not. He was definitely a radical; one who eventually had his sanity challenged legally.
James was a Harvard-educated attorney and author; but James was a "never was"; who sought out various anti-establishment causes all over the world, which would occasionally satisfy his quest to share in the spotlight which illuminated the likes of kinsmen Henry James and William James.
As James pointed out to reporters after being released on bail on Setember 30, 1935, like other members of his old, moneyed, famous family, "he would not submit to tyranny." James also took the opportunity after both court appearances to bring up his support of Massachusetts radicals Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, who had been convicted of murder and executed in the latter 1920s.
How the Nichols connected with Edward Holton James is unknown, but it was possibly through the WatchTower Society itself given James' admitted communication with Judge Rutherford about starting a school for JW children. Carleton Nichols was described as both a "machinist" and an "electrician", thus, he was not in any of James' "circles". At any rate, not much was heard of James and the JWs after the Nichols case slid out of public view. By November, James evidently spyed another "shiny object", as he was captivated by the Lindberg kidnapping, and even championed Bruno Hauptmann. By Spring 1936, James was promoting New Jersey's Governor Hoffman for President due to Hoffman's efforts on behalf of Hauptmann.
Given that James actually did at least "start" schooling Nichols Jr., and one or more other suspended JW children, exactly how and when the JWs were able to part company with Unitarian-Universalist E. H. James, after having given him the "OK" to open the first "Jehovah's School", would be an interesting story.
NICHOLLS v. LYNN ET AL was the 1937 Massachusetts Supreme Court decision in the lawsuit brought by Senior, on Junior's behalf, regarding Junior's expulsion from Lynn school. The JWs lost.
The high court ruled that the Pledge of Allegiance is an acknowledgment of sovereignty, promise of obedience, and recognition of authority above the will of the individual to be respected and obeyed.
The court stated: "The Flag and the Pledge of Allediance in a public school ceremony do not in any just sense relate to religion. They are not observances which are religious in nature. They are wholly patriotic in design and purpose. ... They do not concern the views of anyone as to his Creator. They do not touch on his relations with his Maker."
Interesting are two other 1937 appellate court decisions. In New Jersey, HERING v. STATE held that schoolchildren could be required to recite the Pledge as a condition of school attendance, since the Pledge of Allegiance was just that - a "pledge" - as opposed to a sworn oath. On the other hand, in GABRIELLI v. KNICKERBOCKER, a California appellate court ruled that schoolchildren could NOT be required to recite the Pledge as a condition of school attendance, since reciting the Pledge of Allegiance was just a "custom" in California - as opposed to being a mandated requirement as in some other states.
In PEOPLE v. SANDSTROM, a 1939 New York "Supreme Court" decision, the court upheld the state's compulsory flag law, but reversed the related truancy conviction of the child's JW parents. With regard to 13 year-old Grace Sandstrom's opposition to the Pledge, Judge Crane stated: "Salutlng the flag in no sense is an act of worship or a species of idolatry, nor does it constitute any approach to a religious observance. ... Faith in our fine educational system and its corps of efficient teachers leads one to believe that with a little more patience and some tact, as the child grows in knowledge, a reverence for our flag will develop, and she will be glad it is there to salute."
PEOPLE v. MILO REED was a 1940 New York delinquency case against the Father of 8 year-old Anson Reed, whom the father was accused of teaching to refuse to recite the Pledge. Prior to the trial, Milo Reed stated to a reporter:
"Through ignorance I once broke the covenant of Jehovah when I served with the Fifth Regiment of Marines at Soisson, France, during the World War [ I ], but I will never break his covenant again by taking up the sword against any man for any cause. ... I would never go to war again, not even if Hitler invaded the United States. No, sir. I would never again lift my hand to kill another man."
As it turns out, Milo Reed had been wounded at the referenced WWI battle, and he was receiving a government pension, which in all likelihood played a significant role in feeding his JW family given his occupation as watch and jewelry repairman in a small rural community. Reed lost at both the trial and appellate levels.
"In Weymouth high school [Jehovah's] Witnesses Charles & Harold Newcomb, who claim to be descendants of Betsy Ross, staged a sympathy strike against [the Pledge of Allegiance]." --TIME magazine, November 18, 1935.
In late October 1935, an Associated Press (AP) article was published on the front pages of countless newspapers all across the United States, which told the story of "Betsy Ross Newcomb", the widowed mother of Charles Newcomb, 14, who had been suspended from Weymouth High School, in Massachusetts, after he had refused to stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance because of the family's beliefs as Jehovah's Witnesses. Both the headlines and the article(s) made much-ado about the fact that the Newcombs were "direct decendants of Betsy Ross", and that Mother Newcomb had once been the President of a Boston area American Legion auxiliary.
Typical of the news media, even back in the 1930s, only a fraction of those same newspapers carried the followup story two days later, which reported that after missing one day of school, Charles Newcomb returned to school, apologized for his "boyish" mischief, and recited the Pledge. Charles' mother, "Celia Newcomb" was reported as denying that the family had any connections to the Jehovah's Witnesses.
One can only wonder for how many years thereafter, that when talking to people at the doors, that JWs repeated the story about how even decendants of American Flag maker, Betsy Ross, were JWs who refused to salute, Pledge, or stand for the American Flag.
DeFEHR v. SIMMONS
was a 1992 Oregon federal appellate court decision, which is included because it appears that the Jehovah's Witness plaintiffs in this lawsuit possibly were "shopped"
to enhance this constitutional issue case. This lawsuit challenged the "constitutionality"
of the Oregon system for state funding of foster home care in certain juvenile court placements, as such existed in the 1980s. At that time, for children not eligible for federal foster care funding, Oregon provided state-funded foster care benefits to all federally-ineligible children placed by the state with non-relatives
, but the state did not provide state-funded foster care for federally-ineligible children placed with relatives
. Children who were placed with relatives possibly could qualify for federal assistance through Aid to Dependent Children. ADC payments were lower than either the state or federal foster-care payments, and were unavailable to some children.
The USDC initially granted the state's motion for summary judgement, but the USCA reversed and remanded with directions for summary judgment to be granted the plaintiffs. However, this case was heard en banc by the USCA, which ruled that Oregon's system did not violate the constitution.
Of the three named plaintiffs in this class action lawsuit, Autumn Scalf and William Scalf were Jehovah's Witnesses. (The third named plaintiff suffered from multiple handicaps.) Autumn Scalf and William Scalf were placed under the State's jurisdiction in October 1985, when they were approximately age 9 and age 7, evidently because of their mother's abuse and neglect, caused by her "severe drinking problem".
In January 1986, both children were placed by CSD with their Jehovah's Witness Aunt and Uncle, Gloria Self and Ron Self, where they received federal Title IV-E benefits for a limited time. When the federal funding ceased, the Jehovah's Witness Aunt and Uncle requested that CSD place the two children elsewhere. In August 1986, CSD placed Autumn and William with non-relatives, where they receive state foster care benefits and related medical coverage.
During the DeFEHR v. SIMMONS case, testimony was presented in which the Scalf children accused the first set of non-relative foster parents (evidently from 10/1985 until 1/1986) of being "mean", and not allowing the children to play outside, because they feared the children would run away (maybe rightfully so). Testimony painted Gloria Self and Ron Self as the ideal foster parents, who gave up the Scalf children only because they did not have the financial resources to care for them and their own three children. Gloria Self did not work outside the home, and at the time, Ron Self was drawing Worker's Compensation and Social Security benefits. CSD supposedly found the Self home the most family-like, least restrictive setting for the children. By contrast, Autumn and Billy were unhappy in their latest foster home and found it difficult to practice their religion. One of the children testified:
"If I cannot live with my father and have to be in foster care, I want to be able to live with my aunt and uncle. I do not know my foster parents well, and I fight with my foster sister. They have different beliefs and values than I do. I am a Jehovah's Witness and would like to attend meetings at the Kingdom Hall with my aunt and uncle. There are more things to do at their house and I feel more comfortable with them."
BIGNELL v. PHILADELPHIA TRANSPORTATION COMPANY, and, MCKIM v. PHILADELPHIA TRANSPORTATION COMPANY, and, WALKER ET AL v. PHILADELPHIA TRANSPORTATION COMPANY was a 1948-50 Supreme Court of Pennsylvania decision. This single decision addressed three separate lawsuits filed against the Philadelphia Transportation Company by three female Jehovah's Witnesses and the husband of Walker.
This case is especially "interesting" given that in court case after court case, in the late 1930s and early 1940s, the WatchTower Society had contested soliciting and licensing laws in city after city by making the argument that its literature was not "sold", but was offer "free", in exchange for a "suggested donation", and that neither the WatchTower Society nor its members ever made a "profit" from the "distribution" of WatchTower literature.
On a night in October 1947, the three female Jehovah's Witnesses were traveling a Philadelphia street in an automobile driven by Bignell, when Bignell collided with a streetcar owned and operated by the Philadelphia Transportation Company. The three female JWs alleged that they were injured due to the negligence of the streetcar operator, and sued. In 1948, a Philadelphia jury decided that it was Bignell who was at-fault in the accident -- not the streetcar operator.
As part of their failed lawsuit, the three JWs had alleged that their "damages" included "loss of earnings". In each plaintiff's original complaint, they averred:
"9. As a result of the aforesaid injuries, the plaintiff, _____________, has been and will be unable to attend to her daily duties, which include her occupation as a Minister, to her financial loss and damage."
Since it was the three JWs' responsibility to prove their own "loss of earnings", under direct examination by her own attorney, Bignell testified that as a "Minister" of the Jehovah's Witnesses, she received $25.00 per month from the WatchTower Society, if and only if, she was able to report that she had spent a total of 175 hours time selling WatchTower literature during that month. Bignell also related that she also received an additional $10.00 per month in earnings from her work as a "Minister", since her sales of WatchTower literature was about $20.00 per month, and her cost was 50% of that amount. Bignell testified that as a result of injuries received in the accident, she had been unable to meet the WatchTower Society's 175 hour requirement to receive the $25.00 payment, plus her reduced hours had also resulted in reduced profits from reduced sales of WatchTower literature. Evidently, the Sales Managers at the WatchTower Society were unsympathetic to Bignell's having been injured while doing their bidding. Under cross-examination, PTC's attorney asked:
Q. "Are you an ordained minister?"
Q. "You were ordained when and where?"
Q. "Did you attend any seminar?"
Q. "As an ordained minister did you officiate in any church?"
Q. "In other words, in your occupation you visit homes, don't you, and endeavor to interest people in the beliefs and teachings of the Jehovah's Witnesses. That is what you mean when you say you are a Minister?"
The JWs' attorney objected to every one of those cross-examination questions -- contending that such breached a Pennsylvania statute which prevented witnesses from being questioned about their religious beliefs "for the purpose of affecting either his competency or credibility." The objections were overruled, and it was on such basis that the JWs appealed the jury's verdict against them. The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania also ruled against the three JWs, stating in part:
"The cross-examination was pertinent to enable the jury to consider the claims for impairment of earning power and losses said to have resulted from the accident. We cannot say that the challenged questions exceeded the scope of fair cross examination of the parties making these claims for loss or impairment of earning power. The questions did not challenge appellants' competency to testify nor go to credibility on the ground of membership in a religious sect."
In May 2007, a Lansing, New York newspaper published a news article
which disclosed that the WatchTower Society was seeking to capitalize on the much appreciated market value of what the Jehovah's Witnesses refer to as KINGDOM FARM
, which the WatchTower Society has owned since 1935
Most Jehovah's Witnesses know very little about this large tract of farmland, except the fact that this is one of several farms which the WatchTower Society has used over the years to feed its' Bethel "volunteers". The 1% of JWs who actually know some of their own religion's history may recognize that "Kingdom Farm" was the original location of the WatchTower Society's missionary school, known as the "Watchtower Bible School of Gilead", which was founded in 1942. (The original name was "Watchtower Bible College of Gilead" in the WatchTower Cult's routine modus operandi of exaggeration. In 1947/48, the WatchTower Cult was forced to change "College" to "School" because "Gilead" did not meet the New York Department of Education's standards for use of the label, "College".)
However, a rarely publicized 1948 court decision regarding the taxable status of "Kingdom Farm" provides some interesting details about its' 1940s operations that somehow were neither mentioned to the JW membership
In WATCHTOWER BIBLE AND TRACT SOCIETY OF NEW YORK, INC. v. MASTIN (1948), the Board of Assessors of Taxes of the Town of Lansing had denied exemption from taxes that part of the property devoted to farming. Here is how the court described the property:
"The property involved here consists of six separate parcels of agricultural land, originally six separate farms, operated by the relator as one large farm which it calls "Kingdom Farm". Kingdom Farm is well equipped and stocked with a large dairy, beef cattle, hogs and poultry. There are 701 acres of land with numerous buildings. Six hundred and fifty acres are tillable. Aside from large quantities of grain and fodder for livestock, fruits and vegetables are grown. Kingdom Farm is not different from any large farming operation in any sense, except that upon one of the parcels is located a brick building which relator calls "Bible School of Gilead", and which is used by students for bible study and instruction in the beliefs of Jehovah's Witnesses. This building has been exempted from taxation by the respondents. Kingdom Farm had been operated to produce agricultural products for a substantial length of time before this school was built."
Evidently, "discovery" in this case revealed that the WatchTower Society of New York's receipts for the previous fiscal year were $28,512,000.00 [*]. (*According to the the Bureau of Labor Statistics, $1.00 in 1947 is equal to $9.34 today, so the dollar figures here and to follow will be pre-adjusted and rounded off to aid reading comprehension. Readers should also understand that this corporation is a subsidiary of the parent corporation, similarly named, Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, Inc., plus there were also other subsidiary and/or associated corporations Thus, it is not known if this adjuested $28 Million income was solely from the NY Corp.) The City of Lansing argued that no corporation with that much income, even a corporation engaged in religious work, should be entitled to the benefit of tax exemption statutes. However, this Court rejected that contention by the City.
This Court also rejected the City's challenge of the "good faith" of the WatchTower Society, when stating in the application for a corporate charter, that it was a corporation formed strictly for "religious purposes". Instead, the Court restricted itself solely to the issue of whether "Kingdom Farm is used by the relator exclusively for its corporate purposes." The Court stated, in part:
"It is without dispute that this property was used during the taxable year exclusively for the production of crops, livestock and farm products generally. It is not claimed that the premises were used directly for any religious, scientific, experimental, educational or training purposes. It then becomes a question of what use was made of the products of the farm. It is without dispute that all of the products of any nature produced thereon were used for one of three purposes, i.e., (1) as food for the students attending Bible School of Gilead; (2) as food for the Bethel family in Brooklyn; (3) sold to the public generally for money. The portion used in the first category is without question used for corporate purposes, but the quantity is so comparatively small and insignificant that it is not even claimed that the premises were operated for such purpose or that the operation of the premises would be justified for such a purpose. The relator has assumed that the production of food used in the second category to feed the Bethel family is unquestionably for a purpose that would entitle the property to exemption; and that the products used in the third category for sale to the public were merely incidental sales of surplus not affecting the exempt status. The court cannot agree with either of these assumptions.
"Relator's first assumption is based upon its frequent assertion that the members of the Bethel family are ministers and that the food is furnished to them gratuitously. They are not ministers in any legal sense or within the commonly accepted meaning of that term. Their qualifications do not include any recognized educational requirements or graduation from any recognized educational institution. They have attained no peculiar qualifications for the ministry. Their ordinary and regular duties are not the ordinary and regular duties of a minister as such are ordinarily accepted and understood. The vast majority of them perform the manual labor of operating machinery and equipment in the publishing house not at all dissimilar to the services of any employee of a commercial publishing house. Others regularly perform secretarial, bookkeeping and administrative duties not at all dissimilar to the duties of any office worker. If they perform any work at any time which is directly of a religious nature (the evidence is vague as to whether they do or not), it is in their spare time and is trivial and incidental. Such work, if any, alone would no more entitle them to the designation of "minister" than would the work of a Sunday school teacher in one of the more conventional churches. They are not ordained within any commonly accepted meaning of that word. It is true that they are given an "ordination certificate" issued by the relator. The evidence as to the qualifications for such a certificate is so vague that it appears to the satisfaction of this court that the certificate is issued merely at the pleasure of the relator corporation to anyone connected with its organization. The farm manager and all of the farm employees who do the work upon Kingdom Farm are designated as "ministers". However, the record is so full of their worldly duties of managing and working the farm and so barren of any time whatever spent in spreading the gospel, or in any spiritual pursuit, that the court cannot accept the designation. ...
"Neither is the food furnished gratuitously to the Bethel family. It is compensation for their manual services in the publishing plant and offices of the relator. The mere fact that the relator's activities relate to religion does not necessitate blind acceptance of its characterization of these persons as volunteer workers engaged in spreading the gospel for a "nominal" allowance. The only honest, realistic factual conclusion which seems reasonable from the evidence is that they are employees manning machines in a printing shop and are paid partially in goods instead of money. Their compensation, consisting of complete and comfortable housing, heat, light and public services, meals consisting of unlimited rations of the best foods, laundry, traveling expenses when "upon the business of the Society", in some instances medical attention and clothing allowances, plus $10 per month in cash, would compare most favorably under present price conditions with the wages of any employee in a commercial publishing house. It would not even be arguable that the relator could operate a tax exempt farm in a distant community and use the cash proceeds from the sale of its products to pay its publishing house employees. It seems clear that it was not within the contemplation of the Legislature that it can gain exemption by the simple process of paying its employees with the products themselves instead of cash. For all legal purposes these employees seem to be comparable with the lay employees of conventional churches. It seems no different in principal than the maintenance of a farm by a group of churches for the purpose of producing food for their janitors, maintenance men and other paid lay employees, as a part of their compensation.
"If the court be mistaken in the foregoing interpretation, the relator's claim for exemption still must fail. The third use of the products of Kingdom Farm, the sale to the public, is clearly not a corporate purpose. A brief consideration of the volume of such sales, the manner of making the sales, the efforts devoted to producing the most salable products, and the continued production, year after year, in large volume of products known in advance to be usable only for sale demonstrates that such sales cannot fairly be said to be the incidental disposition of surplus, but constitutes one of the primary purposes of the operation of the farm.
"It appears without dispute that during the taxable year here involved, ending August 31, 1947, the relator sold from Kingdom Farm dairy products, poultry and eggs, hides, dairy cattle, and fruits and vegetables of various kinds. Its employees made regular and systematic trips to Ithaca, New York, and the surrounding vicinity, to sell various kinds of vegetables and farm products to restaurants and other commercial users. A truck was sent weekly during the growing season from the farm to the regional market at Syracuse, New York, with a load of products from the farm. This is a public market for the use of farmers (incidentally, created and partially maintained from taxes), and the products of Kingdom Farm were systematically offered for sale each week in open and immediate competition with taxpaying farmers. Dairy cattle were bought and sold in competition with taxpaying farmers at the "Earlville Sales", a widely known and used public auction system for transactions in dairy cattle It produced and offered for sale to the public a variety of kinds of cheese which could be purchased at the farm or be shipped to any purchaser (labeled KINGDOM CHEESE).
"According to relator's own figures [*ADJUSTED FOR INFLATION AND ROUNDED PER ABOVE NOTE], the value of the total production of Kingdom Farm for the year ending August 31, 1947, was $1,177,000.00, and the value of the production on Carmel Farm (a nearby farm owned by relator but not directly involved here) was $409,000.00, and the amount sold from both farms was $560,000.00. This is a substantial percentage and its designation as an insignificant surplus cannot be justified.
"The sales of poultry and eggs for the year ending August 31, 1947, from Kingdom Farm alone amounted to $206,000.00, and produced a net gain of $133,000.00. It is a fair inference that the reason such enormous quantities of poultry and eggs were produced each year was because such products were readily salable and produced a handsome profit. Similar products sold for the year ending 1946 amounted to approximately the same figure, and for many years large amounts of poultry products were sold. This would seem to eliminate the incidental feature of the surplus and render it an intentional surplus for the purpose of sale. The relator states in its brief that the large poultry department was established "years ago in anticipation of providing poultry for the institution at Brooklyn headquarters. However, due to the operation of the poultry department on Staten Island, New York City, it never became necessary to make demand upon the Kingdom Farm poultry department for supplies of eggs to maintain the institution." Yet during these "many years" relator has continued the heavy production of poultry and eggs, knowing well in advance that it had no use for them except for sale. Why were they produced? The obvious answer is to sell and to make money. In fact, the relator anticipates in the reply brief that the court would necessarily have to find that the operations of the poultry department eliminate any claim of exemption and suggests an arbitrary figure of one thirtieth of the premises (apparently acreage actually occupied by poultry houses and yards) be separately assessed as taxable Of course, this belated suggestion is not feasible as the entire premises, including the poultry department, are operated as one operation, using the same equipment, facilities and land for the production not only of the poultry but of poultry feed, straw and other materials used in the maintenance of the poultry department.
"... It follows that the property was not exclusively used for an exempt purpose and that the assessors properly assessed it as taxable."
The WatchTower Society's Legal Department, which is known to appeal every trial court case it loses, unless such an appeal or the publicity from such would reflect negatively on the JWs, chose NOT to appeal this decision. I WONDER WHY?
In fact, tax cases such as this one can be litigated each and every single tax year. Thus, it is curious as to why the taxable status of KINGDOM FARM was not again litigated until 1954/5? Could it have been that the WatchTower Society's attorneys knew that the profit-making operations ongoing from years 1947 to 1952 were still too large for them to argue for a tax exemption?
In 1958, the WBTS finally litigated tax years 1954-6, evidently because such profit-making enterprises had been reduced to the point where they correctly believed that they could finally win in court. The NY court finally ruled that since sales of farm products sold for profit only amounted to 5% to 8% for 1954-6, that Kingdom Farm was entitled to tax exemptions for those years. In those proceedings, it was disclosed that the "net worth" of the New York Corp in 1955 was $8,925,934.00 (non-adjusted), and $10,654,450.00 (non-adjusted) in 1956 -- a significant single year increase.
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