Recent Developments

Issues that affect ministers and churches
Former Music Director's Defamation Claim Dismissed
Truth is nearly always a defense to defamation.
New York

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 New York court ruled that a church did not defame a former music director by informing the staff and congregation that he had been dismissed as a result of a false statement in his resume that he had an earned doctorate from the Eastman School of Music. In 2006, a church began a search for an Interim Director of Music. A man (the "plaintiff") applied for the open position, indicating to the church in both a cover letter and resume that he had earned a doctorate degree from the Eastman School of Music and had completed "post-doctoral" studies at several prestigious institutions. After multiple communications with church leaders, the plaintiff was hired as the church's Interim Director of Music and church organist.

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Posted: September 1, 2009
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