The Wartburg Watch is pleased to report that on March 31,2010, United States District Judge Marcia Morales Howard has allowed Tom Rich’s lawsuit to proceed against Assistant Florida State Attorney Stephen Siegel. Her finding in this matter is a positive point in a most distressing First Amendment matter.
She said, “The limited record before the court does not support a finding that Siegel had any legitimate law enforcement interest in issuing the investigatory subpoenas.” Also, she surmised that Siegel’s alleged actions “appear to violate the very essence of the First Amendment.”
TWW covered this story extensively last year. Tomorrow, we will reprint the post, “Subpoena This Blog”, which gives a summation of our concerns regarding this matter. In a nutshell, Tom Rich, a long time member of First Baptist Church, Jacksonville, became concerned when Mac Brunson assumed the pastorate several years ago. He observed Brunson's lavish lifestyle, combined with an authoritarian, “my way or the highway” approach to church members, which was a great departure from the atmosphere of a loving community. Rich started a blog to express his concerns. He was apprehensive of potential retaliation against his family members who were members of the church; therefore, he decided to blog anonymously.
As Rich began to expose various aspects of Brunson’s lifestyle, Brunson and/or his bodyguard (how many pastors in the United States need a bodyguard?) claimed that Brunson’s mail was being stolen and his wife was being photographed while she was jogging. It is alleged that Brunson asked his bodyguard, who was also a police officer, to discover the blogger's identity. The officer convinced assistant state attorney Stephen Siegel to subpoena records from Comcast and Google in order to unmask the blogger. They discovered it was a longtime church member named Tom Rich. Once his identity was made known to Brunson and a church administrator, his identity was shared with the large deacon membership of the church. Then Tom Rich and his wife were barred from ever stepping foot on church property again.
Howard did dismiss Rich’s complaint against Siegel’s supervisor, then-state attorney Angela Corey, who was acting in her official capacity and is thus protected by the 11th Amendment to the Constitution. Tomorrow you will read TWW’s interview of Angela Corey in this matter.
Tom Rich is also suing the police officer and First Baptist Church in this matter. Tom Rich is now involved in the deposition phase of the Siegel suit and is currently unavailable for comment on this issue.
What is particularly chilling is that Siegel’s actions also involved requesting the identity of the anonymous blogger at BBC Open Forum, a site which has been critical of Stephen Gaines, a Memphis pastor and friend of Mac Brunson as well as another blogger. Both of these web sites had followed the situation at First Baptist Church, Jacksonville.
Here is our bottom line. Mac Brunson had a myriad of opportunities to diffuse this situation. Instead, he called Tom Rich a sociopath to a local newspaper reporter. TWW even published a suggestion for a method of reconciliation written by an expert, which Rich published on his site. Here's the link:
Mac Brunson appears to be a big, whiney baby who lacks the ability to be a peacemaker. He could have stopped this process a number of times. Instead, it appears he misused the law to identify his accuser. Instead of forgiving Rich, Brunson threw him out of the church. Would Jesus have handled this situation as FBC Jax leadership did?
TWW is in favor of protecting the First Amendment right of bloggers to write freely and anonymously. To those who think otherwise, imagine this country without the freedom of the press. Protest is near and dear to the hearts of Americans and even Christians. Look at Martin Luther who stood up to the church leaders of his time. He was persecuted and almost executed; yet he started a movement that changed the direction of the church forever.
Today, we believe that hyper-authoritarianism is running rampant in America’s churches. Some pastors are now commanding enormous salaries and living fat cat lifestyles while demanding absolute, no questions asked obedience from their church memberships. TWW stands against this trend and is commited to exposing pastors and churches that abuse their calling.
TWW has had the opportunity to talk with Tom and his wife in the past. They are good and decent folks who love the Lord. Our thoughts and prayers are with Tom and his family. We pray that Brunson sees the error of his ways, confesses, repents, and reconciles. He certainly is compensated well by his congregation. Does he ever reflect on who pays him? Maybe Mac Brunson could go out of his way and try to imitate Jesus and be the first to forgive, or else he is just another fat-cat, ho-hum, in it for the fame and fortune preacher. And we have far too many of those! May God's will be done in America 's churches…