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Jehovah's Witnesses

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Jehovah's Witnesses are a Christian denomination founded in the 1870s by Charles Taze Russell as a small bible study group, known as the International Bible Students. Jehovah's Witnesses consider their religion to be a restoration of original first-century Christianity.

The members are known for their racially diverse, close-knit brotherhood, door-to-door evangelizing, and non-participation in government, including politics and military service. They generally exhibit a high degree of commitment to their religion, attending meetings three times a week in their local Kingdom Hall or in private homes. Larger gatherings are held, usually three times a year, in assembly halls or public facilities, such as sports stadiums.

Most non-Unitarian Christian groups do not consider the Witnesses to be Christian, because of their stand on the Trinity doctrine.

Drawing much of their early membership and some of their theology from the Millerite movement, the Jehovah's Witnesses adopted their current name in 1931 under the direction of Charles Taze Russell's successor, Joseph Franklin Rutherford. Rutherford led them from a presbyterian structure toward an episcopal structure. Not fully episcopal, still imbued with the spirit of congregationalism, their method of organization remains unique among Christian sects.

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Organizational Structure Jehovah's Witness headquarters are located in Brooklyn, New York. The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society is one of a number of legal corporations the group uses to represent its interests.

Decisions regarding matters concerning Jehovah's Witnesses worldwide are made by the group's Governing Body, located in Brooklyn, New York. Until the 1970s, this group was identical with the board of directors of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania. Currently, the responsibility for serving as directors of the various corporations the group uses have been delegated to others, and the Governing Body has a rotating chairmanship.

The organization has Branch Offices in 110 countries throughout the world to supervise the Witnesses activities in the local territory. In each branch, a committee of three to seven persons serve as a Branch Committee, representing the governing body.

Membership Jehovah's Witnesses claim a world-wide membership of more than 6.3 million active individuals. Witness membership figures refer to the number of active 'publishers' or door-to-door evangelists and are therefore not directly comparable with statistics produced by other religious groups, which may include all associates regardless of their degree of commitment. Well over 15 million people attend at least some of the group's meetings.[1] (http://www.jw-media.org/people/statistics.htm).

Publications Jehovah's Witnesses make vigourous efforts to spread their beliefs throughout the world in a variety of ways, with particular emphasis on the written word. Their teachings are mainly presented through two monthly journals: Awake!, published in 86 languages, is a general-interest magazine covering many topics from a religious perspective. The Watchtower, published in 146 languages, focuses mainly on doctrine. With an average circulation of 25 million copies semimonthly, The Watchtower is the most widely distributed religious magazine in the world. At their yearly conventions, new books, brochures, and other items pertaining to the religion's current doctrine are usually released. Additionally, a number of audio- and videocassettes have been produced featuring various aspects of the group's beliefs and practices. Their website (http://www.watchtower.org) presents information in a staggering 189 languages (June 2003) and is almost certainly the most multilingual website on the internet.

Opposition to Jehovah's Witnesses Throughout their history, their doctrines and practices have met controversy. Animosity against them has at times led to the point of mob action, government oppression — including being targeted in the Holocaust — and widespread criticism from members of other faiths. In the United States, the well known anti-Semitic priest, Father Coughlin, was especially persistent in leading mobs to attack Witness gatherings.

In the United States, many Supreme Court cases involving Jehovah's Witnesses have shaped First Amendment law. Significant cases affirmed rights such as these:

By 1988, the U.S. Supreme Court had reviewed 71 cases involving Jehovah's Witnesses, two thirds of which were decided in their favor. Most recently, in 2002, Watchtower disputed an ordinance in Stratton, Ohio that required a permit in order to preach from door to door. The Supreme Court decided in favor of Watchtower.

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