Church sues ex-members for defamation over blog criticizing church’s practices

Update, July 27, 2012: A judge has dismissed O’Neal’s lawsuit. reports that, “Washington County Judge Jim Fun sided with the defendants and dismissed the case.”

“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,” Fun wrote in his ruling. […]

“This case was dismissed under Oregon’s anti-SLAPP law” said Linda Williams, an attorney for the defendants. “This is a powerful tool to throw out claims which cannot ever succeed because they seek to squelch speech protected by the First Amendment and Oregon Constitution.”

“SLAPP” stands for “strategic lawsuit against public participation.” That’s a lawsuit that aims to silence somebody who you disagree with by burdening them with legal woes.

“(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,” Fun wrote in the ruling dismissing the case.

A church pastor in Beaverton, Oregon is suing a mother and daughter for $500,000 because they gave the church — Beaverton Grace Bible Church — bad reviews online.

Oregon TV station KATU says

The family being sued left the church a few years ago and Julie Anne Smith says she and her family were shunned and couldn’t understand why. So she went online and wrote Google and DEX reviews of the church and then started a blog.

“I thought, I’m just going to post a review,” Smith said. “We do it with restaurants and hotels and whatnot, and I thought, why not do it with this church?”

But KGW TV reports Smith’s comments kept disappearing

“Since my voice was removed from Google and was not staying there, I felt like I needed a place to have a voice,” she said.

She launched a blog called Beaverton Grace Bible Church Survivors.  It’s a place where former church members and others share their opinions and experiences.  At last check, the site had been viewed nearly 26,000 times since it launched a few months ago. 

On March 1, church pastor Charles O’Neal filed a $500,000 lawsuit against Smith and three other former church members. The suit claims certain words posted online like “creepy” and “control tactics” amount to defamation. […]

Attorney Linda Williams represents Smith and says cases like this rarely go to trial in Oregon. She believes this lawsuit is frivolous because of free speech protections and the high damage request.

Several news outlets say the pastor, the pastor’s wife and the pastor’s attorney were contacted but declined to comment.


While we do not know all that is behind this story, we do know what the Bible says on the subject of Christians suing other Christians.

Pastor Charles (‘Chuck’) O’Neal may want to check 1 Corinthians 6:1-8, which says:

1 If any of you has a dispute with another, do you dare to take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the Lord’s people? 2 Or do you not know that the Lord’s people will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? 3 Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life! 4 Therefore, if you have disputes about such matters, do you ask for a ruling from those whose way of life is scorned in the church? 5 I say this to shame you. Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers? 6 But instead, one brother takes another to court—and this in front of unbelievers!

7 The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated? 8 Instead, you yourselves cheat and do wrong, and you do this to your brothers and sisters.

Beaverton Bible Grace Church Survivors
What does the Bible say about lawsuits / suing?
Research resources on Abusive Churches / Spiritual Abuse
Online book: Church That Abuse
Online book: Recovering From Churches That Abuse

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Religion News Blog posted this on Monday May 14, 2012.
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