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.
A Louisiana court ruled that a minister did not defame a church member in an article he wrote for the church bulletin since the article did not contain a false statement concerning the member. A church member (the "plaintiff"), who had previously served as the church's bookkeeper, had several differences of opinion with the church's minister over issues of administration. The conflict intensified to the point that the plaintiff submitted a letter to the minister in which she resigned from all of her volunteer ministries in the church. Despite her letter, the plaintiff continued to participate in various church ministries. This prompted the minister to send her a letter informing her that her activities were in "direct violation of [her] own self-applied resignation" from the church ministries, and reminded her that her "membership, active participation and contributions in these ministries are no longer allowed." He directed her to "desist from such roles" and to "stop disturbing the peace" of the church. The minister also wrote a short article in the church bulletin that stated, in part: