Remember Julie Anne Smith? She’s the mother who once attended Beaverton Grace Bible Church in Oregon, but after she left, the other church members shunned her, seemingly at the behest of the pastor. (Strange, given that she was still a Christian.)
Turned out she wasn’t alone. So she began a blog called “Beaverton Grace Bible Church Survivors.” And she left some 1-star reviews of the church online.
In true form, Pastor Charles (Chuck) O’Neal responded by suing her for $500,000, claiming “defamation.”
… the pastor claims in the lawsuit he filed that her words, “creepy,” “cult,” “control tactics,” and “spiritual abuse,” are defamation.
The lawsuit didn’t just target Smith. Her daughter and three other commenters are also being sued.
“He can say what he wants in the church and say, don’t talk about this or don’t talk about that, or don’t talk to this person, but when you’re out in the civil world, you don’t do that anymore,” Smith said. “And he’s not my pastor anymore. He does not have that right to keep people from talking.”
The Smiths filed a special free speech motion to dismiss the lawsuit. It goes before a judge later this month.
That all took place back in May.
As of yesterday, there’s a very happy update: All charges against Julie Anne have been dismissed!
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.
It’s possible the church could appeal… if they want to lose even more money down the line.
“This case was dismissed under Oregon’s anti-SLAPP law” said Linda Williams, an attorney for the defendants. “This is a powerful tool to throw out claims which cannot ever succeed because they seek to squelch speech protected by the First Amendment and Oregon Constitution.”
“SLAPP” stands for “strategic lawsuit against public participation.” That’s a lawsuit that aims to silence somebody who you disagree with by burdening them with legal woes.
“(O’Neal) has the right to govern his congregation in the manner in which he chooses, and defendant Julie Anne Smith is authorized by law to express her disagreement with his performance of those activities,” Fun wrote in the ruling dismissing the case.
“This is what America is all about,” Smith told KATU after an earlier hearing. “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.”
The Streisand Effect was in full force here.
The church’s Google Plus page — with 892 reviews — now has an overall score of 0 out of 30 (not a typo).
Meanwhile, “Pastor Chuck” has a message for anyone who visits his website:
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. 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.
He supports the First Amendment… unless someone says something he doesn’t like. Got it.
Congratulations to Julie Anne for speaking out against an awful place and an awful pastor. Maybe some of the current churchgoers will come to their senses and get the hell out of there, too.