Puerto Ricans lose the right to bar Jehovah’s Witnesses from their gated communities

FEARFUL of falling victim to rising crime, growing numbers of Puerto Ricans are moving into gated premises, a trend facilitated by the Controlled Access Laws (CAL) which were enacted to make it easier for residents to keep out undesirables.

This in turn had the effect of throwing a spanner into the works of Jehovah’s Witnesses, who found themselves being barred  from direct access to those they wished to target.

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So they turned to the law for help, and eventually found it it the form of District Court judge, Gustavo Gelpí, who – according to this report– astonishingly ordered neighborhoods who maintain un-manned gates to provide beepers, keys or any other mode of access to the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

The decision, according to this report, is the latest chapter of a legal battle that has spanned several years by the Watchtower Bible Society (as plaintiffs) and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, several municipalities and neighborhoods (as defendants).

The case begins when the Watchtower Bible & Tract Society of New York, Inc. asserted that it was their religious duty to share the Bible’s message publicly and to proselytise from door to door. But when Puerto Rico enacted CAL JWs  found themselves unable to do door to door visits.

More often than not, residents would (and still don’t) not let them in, and neighborhood guards  or flatly deny them access. In the case of un-manned gates, residents simply refuse to “buzz them in”.

Following many attempts by Watchtower to reach an agreement with municipalities and neighborhoods for access, they filed a declaratory action & injunction at the Puerto Rico Federal District Court.

After several procedural steps and filings, Judge Pieras threw out the Watchtower’s case. The JWs then appealed and the case was remanded back to the District Court.

Gelpí’s decision has, unsurprisingly, not gone down well with many residents who live in gated communities. The ruling, in effect, said that blocking access impairs the JWs’ First Amendment rights under the Federal Constitution, and that people living in a gated community cannot legally keep these pests out.

Although the decision is limited to Jehovah’s Witnesses, other advocacy groups could soon file similar legal challenges, further eroding the self-imposed barriers many Puerto Ricans enjoy and cherish.

Note: It was reported here that in England in 2006 a woman who had a humorous sign outside her cottage for more than 30 years was been told by police to take it down because it was deemed a “hate crime”  – despite local Jehovah’s Witnesses saying it didn’t cause offence

The sign – saying “Our dogs are fed on Jehovah’s Witnesses” –  was put up after members of the crazy cult repeatedly pestered the occupants – even once on Christmas day.

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Hat Tip: Trevor Blake