In the case of Highwood Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses (Judicial Committee) v. Wall, the Supreme Court of Canada unanimously decided on May 31, 2018, that “religious groups are free to determine their own membership and rules,” thus recognizing that the disfellowshipping arrangement should remain free from court intervention.

The Supreme Court of Canada building (pictured left) in Ottawa.

The Court concluded that the Witnesses’ procedures for reviewing a serious sin “are not adversarial, but are meant to restore the member to the Congregation,” and it ruled that courts cannot intervene in such private, ecclesiastical matters.

In delineating the reasons for the judgment, Supreme Court Justice Malcolm Rowe explained on behalf of the nine-judge panel: “The procedural rules of a particular religious group may involve the interpretation of religious doctrine, such as in this case. The courts have neither legitimacy nor institutional capacity to deal with contentious matters of religious doctrine.”

Philip Brumley, general counsel for Jehovah’s Witnesses, states: “With this decision, the Supreme Court of Canada joins high courts in Argentina, Brazil, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Peru, Poland, and the United States in recognizing our legal right to follow the Scriptural precedent in determining who qualifies to be one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.”—1 Corinthians 5:11; 2 John 9-11.