Judge Jim Fun granted Julie Anne's anti-SLAPP motion, tossing out Chuck O'Neal's ridiculous lawsuit, and ordering Chuck and Church to fork over the money to pay for the defendants' legal defense.
And there ain't no insurance that will pay for this one. This money will come straight from the coffers of Beaverton Grace Bible Church.
Can you say "special offering"? Can you say "Double Tithe Sunday"?
Seriously, to a small 501(c)3 like BGBC this can be a fatal blow. Chuck and friends rolled the dice on this one, and he lost big time, and may have taken his church down with him. Too bad there weren't some elders/deacons/trustees with a backbone to stand up to Chuck and his cockamamie idea of suing the sheep. Too bad compensatory damages aren't required by the court for the anguish Chuck and his board of elders/deacons/trustees has caused to all of the defendants involved.
Kudos to Julie Anne Smith for her tenacity. Unlike her pastor, she has handled herself with grace and courage through this entire ordeal. Julie Anne has taken the heat, not shying away from the press coverage. She has used the platform given to her by this set of unfortunate circumstances to speak out against spiritual abuse, and no doubt she will continue to do so.
Make no mistake, Julie Anne is a trailblazer. She has won a very important case for religious bloggers who seek to share the truth about churches and pastors. Lawyers who represent well-to-do mega church pastors who are criticized on line are sure to take the judge's ruling to heart. As I said before, if O'Neal won, I believe we would have seen more of these lawsuits by pastors who want to shut up their critics who aren't good for their "business". The judge ruled that religious blogs critical of how pastors run their church and how they treat people, are matters of public interest, and opinions expressed about said pastors is protected free speech.
Here is a very important part of the judge's ruling:
"Plaintiff [O'Neal and his church] 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. Consequently, the foregoing claimed defamatory statements are dismissed."
Awesome. Julie Anne did what she did, "authorized by law". Problem is, in the world of fundamentalist, authoritarian preachers like Chuck, Julie Anne was not authorized by Pastor to do what she did. Pastor didn't like Julie Anne's opinions. Pastor thinks Julie Anne's criticism was sin. Pastor got his hat handed to him by the judge, and Pastor's congregation has to pay the legal bills.
Here is the summary paragraph from Judge Jim Fun's ruling:
"In summary, defendants Julie Anne Smith [and other defendants'] Special Motions to Strike are granted. 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. "
This is all made sweeter by going back and reading Chuck's "press release" from a few months ago, where he said:
"We have not gone hastily to court. For three and a half years this group has been engaged in a public, church to church, and World Wide Web defamation, showing their willingness to harm children, to harm wives, to harm the church, and harm the testimony of Christ's Gospel. It is BGBC's firm conviction that this cannot continue. The ministry of the local church and the Gospel cannot continue to be hindered."
The loving pastor accuses Julie Anne and the others of harming children and wives, and even harming the testimony of Jesus Christ himself. Actually, Chuck, YOU are that man! The last statement above shows why Chuck and his men couldn't make the right call: their religious zealotry made them think their lawsuit was required by God himself to stop Julie Anne from "hindering" the church and the Gospel. In the fog of their religious confusion, they thought they were doing the very will of God.
As I close, I can't help but go back to the statement made by Chuck's wife when interviewed by KPTV, staring right into the camera and saying of Julie Anne and her co-defendants (while Chuck had a Cheshire-cat grin, see left):
"The only thing worse than a vicious woman is a group of vicious women." Mrs. O'Neal
I guess to Chuck and friends, they now have discovered there IS one thing worse - in their twisted minds - than even a group of "vicious women" who are "hindering" the local church and the Gospel:
One judge who can rightly put an authoritarian pastor and his cultish church in their place.
Other sites posting articles on Julie Anne's tremendous victory, and some quotes:
Julie Anne's blog: Judge's Decision
Wartburg Watch: Julie Anne Smith Prevails Against Her Former Church
"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).Bene Diction Blog: Beaverton Grace Bible Church Loses Court Case Against Blogger
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. "
"Some of the best coverage of this Beaverton Grace Bible Church bully suit has been by Tom Rich of FBC Jax Watchdog – another blogger who dared question his pastor and who also faced spiritual abuse and struggles in US courts."Previous Watchdog Articles on this Case:
Mother and Daughter Being Sued by Their Former Pastor - May 13, 2012
An Analysis of Chuck O'Neal's Press Release - May 17, 2012
Greater Love Hath No Pastor - June 1, 2012
Donate to the BGBC Legal Defense Fund - July 11, 2012