194-0 Thomas Jefferson Jr. Affidavit
The Affidavit of Thomas Jefferson Jr. is in support of the defendant Watchtower’s response brief opposing the Plaintiff’s motion to compel the production of documents. [Document 193]
Jefferson, a long-standing member of the Jehovah’s Witness headquarters staff, has been a member of the Service Department since 2008. Jefferson argues that in addition to local elders providing spiritual counsel to congregation members, those local elders also need to consult with the New York-based Service Department for advice in handling congregation matters.
“For all times relevant to this lawsuit, congregation elders communicated with experienced elders in the Service Department (working through WTNY) to receive spiritual counsel and guidance about the application of Bible principles to issues concerning the congregation and its
members. These communications are made to elders in the Service Department in the Service Department elders’ capacity as spiritual advisors. Just as elders in congregations sent questions to the apostles and older men during the first century (see, e.g., Acts 15:2), congregation elders today, turn to experienced elders in the Service Department at the branch office to help them decide how to handle a spiritual matter. All such spiritual communications must be kept private and strictly confidential in accordance with the Scriptural beliefs and practices of Jehovah’s Witnesses.”
Jefferson’s argument directly addresses the issue that the courts have with internal investigations that are generally not considered “penitent communications” or “confessions”. To support this argument he says:
“Based on the beliefs and practices of Jehovah’s Witnesses, all spiritual communications taking place during an investigation or a judicial committee proceeding, or in furtherance of the congregation’s ongoing spiritual assistance to a wrongdoer, are considered private and confidential. The presence or participation of two or more elders in an investigation or judicial committee does not affect the elders’ confidentiality obligations. Furthermore, any records created in connection with these matters are kept under lock and key at the Kingdom Hall and are accessible to elders only, all of whom operate under the same duty to maintain confidentiality.”
The motivation behind these statements is to establish that the cloak of confidentiality extends well beyond the confession of a sin (or crime) to a church elder. The Jehovah’s Witnesses want all communications and documents to be considered private and undiscoverable, even those where elders approach a congregation member and launch into a series of interrogations regarding the alleged non-Christian behavior.
To impress upon the court the seriousness of an elder disclosing confidential information [read: calling the police to disclose allegations of child abuse,] Jefferson describes the impact such a revelation would have upon his position as an elder and the role he plays as an elder:
“If an elder disclosed confidential information, his credibility and effectiveness as an elder would be compromised and it could have a chilling effect on the congregation members seeking spiritual encouragement, counsel and guidance from elders. Because free and open communication between congregation members and their elders is essential to the spiritual welfare of the members and of the congregation as a whole, the importance of privacy and confidentiality is difficult to overstate.”
All of this is designed to support the Jehovah’s Witness position that elders should be allowed to maintain clerical confidentiality no matter what is disclosed to them- even if it means covering up the barbaric and illegal actions taken by a serial child abuser.
This affidavit was sworn and signed before a Notary Public for the State of New York on January 17th, 2023.