Pastor Sues Church Critics for $500,000

By: Michael Seinberg

Americans have always counted religious freedom as one of the cornerstones of our society. However, one Oregon religious leader doesn’t think that religious freedom and freedom of speech should break bread together.

Pastor Charles O’Neal of the Beaverton Grace Bible Church has filed a $500,000 lawsuit against four former church members over online comments that he calls defamation. It seems that he may have missed that Bible passage about turning the other cheek.

The issue erupted after Julie Ann Smith and her family left the church a few years ago. She and her family claim they were being shunned by church members and nobody would tell her why. “If I went to Costco or any place in town, if I ran into somebody, they would turn their heads and walk the other way,” said Smith. “All we did was asked questions. We just raised concerns. There’s no sin in that,” she added.

Getting no satisfaction through simple, civil communications, Smith took to the Internet and posted reviews of the church on Google and DEX reviews. She then started a blog called Beaverton Grace Bible Church Survivors where she used words like “creepy” “cult” “control tactics” and “spiritual abuse.” That’s when O’Neal filed the suit.

In response, the Smiths have filed a special free speech motion to dismiss the suit called an anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation). In a nutshell, suits of this nature are sometimes used as a threat to stop people from discussing or debating certain things in a public forum, essentially curbing free speech.

Whatever happens as this suit moves forward or gets tossed, you can be sure that even if God isn’t listening, a judge certainly will be.

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