Recent Developments

Issues that affect ministers and churches
Church Member Sues Pastor for Defamation
Pastor sued for making widespread allegations that a church member was homosexual.
Key point 4-02.1. Ministers may be liable for making defamatory statements if a civil court can resolve the dispute without any inquiry into church doctrine or polity.
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.
Key point 10-13.1. A few courts have found churches and denominational agencies liable on the basis of a breach of a fiduciary duty for the sexual misconduct of a minister. In some cases, the church or agency is found to be vicariously liable for the minister's breach of a fiduciary duty, but in others the church or agency is found to have breached a fiduciary duty that it had with the victim.

A Florida court ruled that a church member could sue his pastor for defamation for publicly alleging that he was a homosexual. A church member (the "plaintiff") and his pastor formed both a business and personal relationship outside the church. Later, the pastor sponsored the plaintiff to obtain a license to minister in the denomination with which the church was affiliated.

As their relationship developed, the plaintiff confided in the pastor that he had been called a homosexual as a teenager by an authority figure. This ultimately led to the plaintiff's installation of a religious internet filtration and accountability system on his personal computer that reports suspect internet usage, or attempted usage, to third parties. The pastor served as the plaintiff's "accountability partner" under the system, and one report prompted the pastor to ask the plaintiff if he was "gay." The plaintiff denied that he was a homosexual. At some point thereafter, the relationship between the two men deteriorated.

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