Recent Developments

Issues that affect ministers and churches
Defamation and Proof of Injury to Reputation
Injury to reputation is not always presumed in cases of false accusations.
New Mexico
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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 4-02.02. Ministers are considered "public figures" and as a result they cannot be defamed unless the person making an otherwise defamatory remark did so with malice. In this context, malice means that the person making the defamatory remark either had actual knowledge that it was false or made it with a reckless disregard as to its truth or falsity.

The New Mexico Supreme Court ruled that defamation requires proof of actual injury to reputation, and that injury to reputation will not be presumed even in cases of false accusations of pedophilia, and as a result a pastor who was falsely accused of pedophilia could not sue the perpetrators for defamation without proof of actual damage to his reputation. A church board member compiled a packet of documents for presentation to a denominational agency (the "regional church") pertaining to misconduct by the pastor. The packet included documentation related to financial problems at the church, an alleged lack of leadership shown by the pastor, and personal attacks against the pastor. One of the documents was an anonymous letter accusing the pastor of several acts of pedophilia. After the presentation of this information to the regional church, and at its recommendation, the pastor disclosed a summary of the allegations to the congregation during a Sunday service.

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