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Church Protected by “Qualified Privilege” from Defamation Claims by Minister

Court concluded that there is an “absolute First Amendment protection for statements made by church members in an internal church disciplinary proceeding,”

Last Reviewed: March 23, 2021

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.

An Illinois court ruled that statements made in a church disciplinary process involving accusations of sexual misconduct by a minister were protected against claims of defamation by a qualified privilege.

A minister (the “plaintiff”) served as a church’s ...

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  • April 30, 2019
  • Last Reviewed: March 23, 2021

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