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Ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses are “mentally diseased” and should be avoided just like anybody else with an infectious disease, according to an article in The Watchtower, the official magazine ditributed door-to-door by the church’s members.

The article has prompted outcries from a number of lapsed Witnesses as well as several ministries who counsel former members and teach against the group’s doctrines.

Jeremy Taylor at the British newspaper the Independent writes

An article published inThe Watchtower warns followers to stay clear of “false teachers” who are condemned as being “mentally diseased” apostates who should be avoided at all costs. “Suppose that a doctor told you to avoid contact with someone who is infected with a contagious, deadly disease,” the article reads. “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.”

Detectives are investigating whether the article is in breach of Britain’s religious hatred laws, reports the daily Telegraph. A group of former Witnesses, based in Portsmouth, have made an official complaint to Hampshire Police, who have launched an investigation. Former members are also considering whether to complain to Britain’s Charity Commission. The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Britain, which prints church doctrine in Britain, is a registered charity, noted the Telegraph:

The church is known for handing down harsh punishments to followers who criticize doctrines or raise questions about the faith.

Angus Robertson, a former Witness from Hampshire who was present at the meeting with police, told the Independent: “The way scripture is being used to bully people must be challenged. If a religion was preaching that blacks or gays were mentally diseased there would understandable outrage.”

As a faith with a centralised leadership, many forms of discipline are used to counter criticism of doctrine, with punishments ranging from restriction of official duties to excommunication. Those who have been thrown out of the church often find themselves ostracised by fellow believers.

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