Scare Quotes

Watching The Watchtower.


The Pennsylvania-based publisher of the Jehovah's Witness magazine The Watchtower is suing a Canadian Web site, quotes.watchtower.ca, for posting quotations from the long-running staple of door-to-door evangelism. The plaintiffs accuse the site of infringing their copyrights and trademarks, violating the end-user agreement for the Watchtower Library CD-ROM, and unlawfully misappropriating "classified information" on that same CD. Anticipating the obvious response, they also deny that the site is engaged in scholarly fair use of their material, arguing instead that it exists "to embarrass the Plaintiffs."

Like similar cases brought by the Church of Scientology, the suit presents the surreal spectacle of a religion trying to stymie the free distribution of its own teachings. And like the Scientologists, Jehovah's Witnesses have a history of championing free speech laws that allow aggressive proselytizing. The site in question does post excerpts from The Watchtower in mind-numbing, obsessive detail. But as site operator Peter Anthony Mosier asks, "How can accurate quotes from the Watch Tower's publication possibly embarrass the Watch Tower?"

Perhaps this 1932 claim, cited by the site, helps answer that question: "The 'theory of gravity' is thoroughly in error…electrical forces, instead, hold the planets in orbit and hold everything down on the earth's surface."?