Recent Developments

Issues that affect ministers and churches
Church Officials Violate of Freedom of Speech
Court rules that seeking identity anonymous blogger critiquing the church and forcing him out was unconstitutional.
Key point 4-04. Many states recognize "invasion of privacy" as a basis for liability. Invasion of privacy may consist of any one or more of the following: (1) public disclosure of private facts; (2) use of another person's name or likeness; (3) placing someone in a "false light" in the public eye; or (4) intruding upon another's seclusion.

* A federal court in Florida ruled that the disclosure of the identity of a church member who started an anonymous blog critical of the pastor and various church practices violated his constitutional right of free speech. A man (the "plaintiff") had been a member of a church for 20 years. The church's lead pastor retired, and the church eventually called a new pastor. Almost immediately after the new pastor began his duties, the plaintiff noticed changes in the preaching style, fundraising, and administration of the church. He disapproved of these changes, believing them to be a departure from long-standing church practices and a serious threat to the integrity of the church. As a result, the plaintiff began an "online chat forum" (blog) to discuss issues related to church doctrine, church funding, and church administration. The blog included the plaintiff's religious viewpoints, information and opinions pertaining to the church and the pastor's leadership. The plaintiff encouraged others to contribute to the blog as well. Although the blog was critical of the pastor, the plaintiff insisted that it did not condone, incite, threaten, or describe violence against church leaders, and that he did not engage in any type of criminal conduct against the church or its leaders. Nevertheless, the plaintiff chose to maintain the blog anonymously, due to the critical, controversial nature of the topic and his fear of retaliation from the church. In addition, the plaintiff believed that anonymity would encourage an open and honest dialogue and thereby increase the power and effectiveness of the blog.

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