May 16 in History: Russellites Charged With Anti-War Views

Russellites Secure Reversal of Verdict
Russellites Secure Reversal of Verdict via The Washington Herald / Library of Congress

From May 16, 1919 comes the story of "Russellites" receiving reduced sentences on charges of conspiracy to violate the espionage law after prior conviction in Brooklyn court.

Although being a conscientious objector had been in practice since the Revolutionary War, the breakoff Jehovah's Witness sect of the Russellites (later known as the Bible Student Movement) had been charged with distributing anti-war material under the guise of religion among the public and members of the armed forces. The sentence given in June 1918 brought 20 years in federal prison for each of the eight defendants, but by 1919 the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals would overturn the decision on grounds that the trial was not sufficiently impartial.

While the men were free, the Bible Student movement would suffer many schisms over the next years, and tensions would arise of its association with the Watch Tower Society, which had come under new leadership after Pastor Russell's death in 1917.

Today, Jehovah's Witnesses still remain in Brooklyn, but have recently been putting many of their properties up for sale.


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