Church Sues Ex-Members for Defamation on Blog

Thou shall not post bad reviews of your church online — unless you want to face the wrath of a vengeful lawsuit. That’s what an Oregon pastor seems to be saying, as he’s filed a $500,000 defamation lawsuit against four former church members who badmouthed his church on a blog, Portland’s KGW-TV reports. But the accused defamers are fighting back against Pastor Charles O’Neal’s lawsuit, with a special kind of legal action that asserts free speech under the First Amendment. Small businesses and nonprofits may want to take note of their strategy. A lawyer for the ex-church members being sued has filed a special free-speech motion to try to get the suit dismissed, Portland’s KATU-TV reports. That motion is likely what’s known as an “anti-SLAPP” motion — a way to dismiss an allegedly frivolous lawsuit, when that lawsuit attempts to silence free speech and expression. Anti-SLAPP (which stands for Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) laws differ by state, but in Oregon it’s a two-step process . The accused defamers — in this case, the ex-church members — must first prove the pastor’s lawsuit falls into a category that allows this kind of special free-speech motion. A lawsuit that targets written statements in a public forum, on an issue of public interest, fits the bill under Oregon law. Next, the pastor can try to get the anti-SLAPP motion dismissed by showing that his lawsuit will likely prevail at trial. If the pastor can convince a judge he’s likely to succeed, the anti-SLAPP motion will be dismissed, and the case will proceed in court. Pastor Charles O’Neal’s church defamation suit takes issue with his ex-church members’ comments — which used words such as “creepy,” “cult,” “control tactics,” and “spiritual abuse,” KATU reports. The ex-members’ anti-SLAPP motion goes before a judge May 21. Related Resources: Beaverton church sues former member over blog (The Associated Press) Defamation Law: The Basics (FindLaw) 3 Tips When You Sue for Online Defamation (FindLaw’s Injured) Blogger Defamation Suit Survives Dismissal (FindLaw’s Free Enterprise)

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Church Sues Ex-Members for Defamation on Blog