English police are investigating whether a Jehovah's Witness magazine violated the country's religious hatred laws.
The July edition of the monthly publication Watchtower warned readers not to follow "false teachers" who may be "mentally diseased," The Telegraph reported. Part of the passage at issue reads:
"Suppose that a doctor told you to avoid contact with someone who is infected with a contagious, deadly disease. You would know what the doctor means, and you would strictly heed his warning. Well, apostates are 'mentally diseased', and they seek to infect others with their disloyal teachings."
Watchtower is distributed around the world, but it was in the English town of Portsmouth that a group of ex-Witnesses made an official complaint.
Many Jehovah's Witnesses are not comfortable with the religion's notoriously harsh treatment of members who disagree with its doctrine and may choose to leave the church, reports The Independent One former member told the newspaper that "Many like me remain associated with the Witnesses out of fear of being uncovered as an 'apostate' and ousted, not just from the organization, but from their own friends and families. I find I am now branded as 'mentally diseased'--giving any who discovers my true beliefs free license to treat me with disdain."
According to PBS, Jehovah's Witnesses shun "as many as 30,000 members each year who refuse to live by the religion's moral tenets," as of 2007. Members who leave the group are subject to similar treatment.
Rick Fenton, a church spokesman, backed up the organization's practices to The Telegraph: "Any one of Jehovah's Witnesses is free to express their feelings and to ask questions," he said. "If a person changes their mind about Bible-based teachings they once held dear, we recognize their right to leave."