Recent Developments

Issues that affect ministers and churches
Defamation: Statements of Opinion
Statements of opinion are generally not considered defamatory.

Key Point 4-02. Defamation consists of (1) oral or written statements about another person; (2) that are false; (3) that are "published" (that is, communicated to other persons); and (4) that injure the other person's reputation.

Key Point 7-17. Churches do not have to tolerate persons who disrupt religious services. Church leaders can ask a court to issue an order barring the disruptive person from the church's premises. If the person violates the order, he or she may be removed from church premises by the police, and may be found to be in contempt of court.

A Tennessee court ruled that a statement made by a church member to police officers to the effect that another church member intended to kill someone was not defamatory since it was a statement of opinion rather than fact. A male church member (the "plaintiff") claimed that a female pastor at his church made unfounded accusations of sexual harassment against him. The plaintiff filed a complaint with the church's Staff-Parish Relations Committee against the pastor. He also wrote a poem, entitled "Assumptions," which he sent via e-mail to the pastor. The poem tells a story in sixteen rhymed couplets of the arrival of "an attractive young lady" at the heavenly gates. She asks St. Peter if she can enter, and he offers her a hug "with arms opened wide." She rejects the hug, and St. Peter rebukes her for her distrust and prejudice. He then pulls a chain, opening a door beneath the woman's feet, with the result that "the devil embraced this woman on the other side."

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Posted: July 1, 2008
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