A lawsuit brought by Beaverton Grace Bible Church in Oregon against a former member who gave the church bad reviews online has been dismissed because the church failed to prove the reviews were defamatory.
Washington County Circuit Judge Jim Fun made the decision last week, informing the Beaverton, Ore., church and defendants Julie Anne Smith and daughters Hannah Smith and Meaghan Varela:
"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. The court further finds that plaintiff has not met the burden of presenting substantial evidence the defendant's statements are defamatory."
Beaverton Grace Bible Church had requested $500,000 in damages in its lawsit against Julie Smith and her co-defendants. Instead, the Beaverton congregation, headed by Pastor Chuck O'Neal, will have to reimburse the defendants at least $16,7500 in attorney's fees and related court costs.
Pastor O'Neal has reasserted in a statement his right to challenge "false criminal accusations and character assassination."
"It has been my privilege to pastor Beaverton Grace Bible Church for over twelve years. As an American patriot and a Christian pastor I staunchly support our First Amendment rights," wrote O'Neal in a "personal note" on the church's website.
"As a husband, a father, and a pastor I stand by my right and the right of every American citizen to defend themselves, their families, their churches, their secular organizations, and their businesses from World Wide Web Internet assaults consisting of false criminal accusations and character assassination of the worst kind," O'Neal added.
The lawsuit was filed earlier this year after Smith in her online blog called Beaverton Grace Bible Church "creepy" and accused the leadership of spiritual abuse and using "control tactics." She also claimed the leadership allowed a sex offender in the church to have access to children.
Smith claimed she and her family were eventually shunned by other members in the community after leaving the church. The Oregon resident, who has been documenting the court case on her blog, also published the judge's decision online.