Former Church Member Sued for Negative Review of Church
TechDirt and others are reporting on an interesting possible SLAPP filed by an Oregon church, the Beaverton Grace Bible Church, against a former member who wrote a bad review of the church online on her blog. The statements the church claims to be defamatory reportedly include calling the church “creepy” — which is almost certainly a statement of opinion and not defamatory. However, other statements — such as statements about the church allowing a known sex offender to be near children — could be defamatory if the plaintiff can show them to be untrue. The New York Daily News reports that the defendant, Julie Anne Smith, has filed a “free speech motion to have the suit dismissed,” which may refer to an anti-SLAPP motion filed pursuant to Oregon law. (Oregon has a relatively strong anti-SLAPP statute similar to California’s.)
If shown to be a SLAPP, this certainly would not be the first time a church has SLAPPed a former member for speaking out or petitioning the government — one of the first well-publicized instances of the California anti-SLAPP statute being used involved a suit by the Church of Scientology against a former member. In any case, this lawsuit will be worth following.