Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Jehovah's Witnesses In Puerto Rico Win Access To Additional Gated Communities To Proselytize

In 2013, a Puerto Rico federal district court, in a case on remand from the 1st Circuit, ordered neighborhood homeowners' associations (urbanizations) that operate gated communities to provide Jehovah's Witnesses who wish to proselytize in the neighborhood access equal to that of residents. (See prior posting.) There has been a good deal of resistance by urbanizations to complying with the orders, particularly because of concern about crime.

Earlier this month another lawsuit was filed by Jehovah's Witnesses against gated communities in 38 municipalities, a majority of the remaining municipalities not named as defendants in the earlier suit.  In Watchtower Bible Tract Society of New York, Inc. v. Municipality of Aguada, (D PR, Feb. 10, 2016), a Puerto Rico federal district court issued an elaborate temporary restraining order designed to facilitate maximal compliance with the right of Jehovah's Witnesses to obtain access to gated communities, particularly in light of the March 23 Memorial of the Death of Jesus Holiday.  The court ordered that urbanizations in all 38 municipalities must be open for Jehovah's Witnesses to proselytize on Saturday, February 27, 2016 from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM. Then by March 15, all the municipalities must either notify plaintiffs that they agree to the same kind of open arrangements that were ordered in the earlier case, or else notify the court that they are defending against the lawsuit.  Municipalities that agree to go along with the earlier arrangements will be given time to confer with plaintiffs on implementing an action plan, and will avoid assessment of attorneys' fees.  Others will move to litigation.