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Defamation and Church Clergy

A church's protection from defamation lawsuits.

Key point 4-02.03. A number of defenses are available to one accused of defamation. These include truth, statements made in the course of judicial proceedings, consent, and self-defense. In addition, statements made to church members about a matter of common interest to members are protected by a "qualified privilege," meaning that they cannot be defamatory unless they are made with malice. In this context, malice means that the person making the statements knew that they were false or made them with a reckless disregard as to their truth or falsity. This privilege will not apply if the statements are made to nonmembers.

Key point 10-15. The First Amendment limits, but does not eliminate, a church's liability for defamation.

* An Oklahoma court ruled that the First Amendment guaranty of religious liberty, as well as the concept of "qualified privilege," protected a church from being sued for ...

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Richard R. Hammar is an attorney, CPA and author specializing in legal and tax issues for churches and clergy.

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Posted:
  • January 1, 2007

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