Judge dismisses suit claiming defamation by Jews for Jesus

WEST PALM BEACH – A judge has dismissed a defamation lawsuit from a woman who sued a religious movement for claiming she converted to the organization’s beliefs.

In her lawsuit, Edith Rapp claimed her stepson wrongly proclaimed in a Jews for Jesus newsletter that she tearfully converted to the movement at her husband’s bedside.

But attorneys for Jews for Jesus claimed that calling Rapp “a Jewish believer” was not defamatory because it is not “highly offensive to a reasonable person.”

Circuit Judge Catherine Brunson dismissed the lawsuit Tuesday, but she did not rule out the possibility that the suit could proceed.

Rapp’s attorney, Barry Silver, said the complaint, which was filed in December in Palm Beach County circuit court, will be amended. If it is dismissed again, he promised an appeal.

Silver said the claims made by Rapp’s stepson, Bruce Rapp, in a July 2002 Jews for Jesus newsletter were defamatory because “it says she belongs to a movement that has as its goal the elimination of the Jewish people through deception and fraud.”

The suit emerged as Jews for Jesus began a two-week campaign in Palm Beach seeking to inform Jews of its belief about the divinity of Jesus Christ. Volunteers and employees distributed gospel tracts, went knocking door-to-door and called residents.

Liberty Counsel attorney Mat Staver, who was representing Jews for Jesus, said the lawsuit was an attack on the organization because of its outreach program.

“Jews for Jesus has a right to free speech and a right to seek to evangelize Jewish individuals regardless of whether some individuals harbor animosity about those activities,” Staver said in a statement. “The law should not give a voice to prejudice, whether it be racial, or, as in this case, religious prejudice.”

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