Judge: Give Jehovah’s Witnesses keys to gated neighborhoods
U.S. District Judge Gustavo Gelpí said municipal governments must guarantee access to all access-controlled neighborhoods. That includes giving Jehova’s Witnesses beepers, keys and any other mode of entry to neighborhoods that have unmanned gates.
Gelpí’s ruling is the latest in a years-old legal bid by the Watchtower Bible Society to be able to freely enter Puerto Rico’s gated communities.
The Watchtower Bible Society sued the commonwealth of Puerto Rico, several municipalities and neighborhoods, citing their belief that it is their religious duty to share the Bible’s message publicly and to proselytize from house to house.
Gelpí’s order follows a federal appeals court determination to remand the case to the U.S. District Court last year after finding that gated communities may inquire name and purpose, but following that must allow the visitor entry, regardless of the resident’s authorization. The lower court had dismissed that bid by the plaintiffs.
Communities with guards already had to let them in. Now those without guards manning gates must provide access.
The American Civil Liberties Union has said the ruling benefits all religious, political and social groups.
In Puerto Rico, streets inside gated communities are considered public thoroughfares.
The Christian Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Puerto Rico estimates that its members have been barred from 587 gated communities in 57 municipalities. They say that about half of the island’s gated communities have guards.
Puerto Rico has 318 Jehovah’s Witnesses congregations, with a total of about 25,000 members.