"This is what America is all about. We need to be able to speak freely even if it's not polite or falls on ears that really (don't) want to hear this kind of thing."
Julie Anne Smith (KATU interview)
I will never forget that e-mail Dee and I received from Julie Anne Smith months ago explaining that she was being sued by her pastor / church for $500,000. Why??? Because she had posted Google reviews about her former pastor and church of a critical nature. We couldn't believe it! Here is how Julie Anne explains her reason for blogging:
"I began this blog in Feb. 2012 after noticing that the Google reviews I had posted of my former church were being removed. Days after the commencement of this blog, I received a legal summons suing me and three others for defamation to the tune of $500,000. The story of spiritual abuse needs to be told. People are being hurt emotionally and spiritually by pastors who use bully tactics and we need a place to learn, to talk freely, and to heal. I will not be silenced."
We first reported on this lawsuit back in May. The post was entitled: Pastor makes International News by Suing Blogging Critic – Is John MacArthur's Church involved?
We even agreed to post a press release by Chuck O'Neal, Julie Anne Smith's former pastor.
Earlier today the judge dismissed the lawsuit filed by Beaverton Grace Bible Church (BGBC) against Julie Anne Smith and other former church members including her daughter, Hannah Smith, and Meaghan Varela. The local media outlets were the first to break the news with these stories:
"The church [Beaverton Grace Bible Church] claimed the women had defamed it and O'Neal in Google reviews and Julie Anne Smith's blog about the church.
Their attorney, Linda K. Williams, said the church practices "Old Testament shunning" and her clients were all eventually ostracized by the church. Their negative comments, which they published online, were protected free speech, she said.
Circuit Judge Jim Fun announced his decision in a letter he mailed to the parties Monday.
Fun granted the defendants' special motions to strike and ordered the plaintiffs to pay their costs and attorney fees."
"A judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by a church pastor who claimed an online review of his church by a former parishioner was defamatory. At the heart of the lawsuit was a simple question: Was the online review protected free speech, or did it cross the line into defamatory speech.
On Thursday, 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.
Smith, who was one of several defendants in the case, left the Beaverton Grace Bible Church in 2008. She says she was shunned afterward, and then wrote reviews and a blog calling the pastor a "wolf" and used words like "control", "cult" and "spiritual abuse". "
A reporter for Fox 12 News explained the judge's position, as follows:
"The report from Judge Jim Fun said the internet postings 'were made in a public forum and concern an issue of public interest. The court further finds that the plaintiff has not met the burden of presenting substantial evidence the defendant's statements are defamatory.' "
There can be no doubt that the major news outlets will be reporting on this story, which has garnered tremendous attention. I do hope that hyper-authoritarian pastors are paying attention… First there was Tom Rich (on the East Coast); now Julie Anne Smith (on the West Coast).
Yep, from coast to coast judges are ruling in favor of parishioners who have the right to exercise their free speech. It does appear that the internet is the modern day version of the Gutenberg Press which was a major contributing factor to the Reformation. Martin Luther's positions were disseminated far and wide through that advancement in technology. We believe the internet was invented for such a time as this…
Congratulations Julie Anne! You are a real trailblazer. If you'd like to post a comment on Julie Anne's blog, go to this link.
It's a new day, and this song is dedicated to Julie Anne and her co-defendants for their tremendous courage. You are an inspiration to all of us!
It really is a new day – we are starting our Bible reading program over again!
Lydia's Corner: Genesis 1:1-2:25 Matthew 1:1-2:12 Psalm 1:1-6 Proverbs 1:1-6