Recent Developments

Issues that affect ministers and churches
Malicious Statements
Court rules that committee's statements are protected by "qualified privilege."

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 appeals court ruled that a church's finance committee members did not commit defamation by sending a letter to a denominational office recounting several examples of financial irregularities involving a former pastor. A church hired a new pastor ("Pastor Tim"). Shortly after being installed, Pastor Tim appointed several persons (the "defendants") to the church's finance council. Pursuant to their duties, the finance council conducted a review of church finances. After encountering difficulties in reconciling some financial records and locating some church property the council members sent a signed letter to a regional denominational office (the "regional church") explaining the financial irregularities and missing items of property. The letter noted that the church had paid for the remodeling of property owned by the former pastor, and had paid his personal cell phone bills. It also described missing church property (a piano, television, commercial stove, pool table, and an expensive piece of artwork).

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Posted: March 1, 2010
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