A minister who sought 500 thousand dollars in damages for defamation against a former church member who blogged about her experience with his church, will be paying the former members court costs and legal fees.
Rev. Chuck O’Neal of Beaverton Grace Bible Church grabbed world-wide attention this year when he filed a defamation suit against Julie Anne Smith, her daughter and a couple of other former church members. (2 of thedefendants were dropped from the suit in May) The background to this strange sage can be found at bgbsurvivors in the section titled My Story.
What did Julie Anne Smith do that incurred the wrath of her former pastor?
She initially posted reviews of the church on Google and when they mysteriously disappeared, she started her blog to outline her concerns about the spiritual abuse and shunning she and her family had experienced. A few days after her blog went up, she received notice O’Neal was suing her. The defamation claims of Chuck O’Neal did not impress the judge:
“The court finds that the defendant’s Internet postings on plaintiff’s website and defendant Julie Anne Smith’s blog site were made in a public forum and concern an issue of public interest. The court further finds that plaintiff has not met the burden of presenting substantial evidence the defendant’s statements are defamatory.”
“(O’Neal) has the right to govern his congregation in the manner in which he chooses, and defendant Julie Anne Smith is authorized by law to express her disagreement with his performance of those activities,” (Judge) Fun wrote in the ruling dismissing the case.
Some of the best coverage of this Beaverton Grace Bible Church bully suit has been by Tom Rich of FBC Jax Watchdog – another blogger who dared question his pastor and who also faced spiritual abuse and struggles in US courts. To paraphrase Tom:
Angry pastors and hyper-authoritarianism 0
If I understand US anti-SLAPP laws correctly, insurance won’t pick up the cost for Chuck O’Neal and his supporters.
Update: Costs submitted to the court total $44,372.55. The costs for 2 defendants dropped from the suit total $16,000.00