Before you say something
Before you make a statement that could be defamatory, take the following precautions:
1. Such statements may be protected by a qualified privilege if they are made to members only. This means that church leaders should ensure that only members are present when the statements are made. This can be accomplished in a number of ways. For example, a special meeting of members is called and only persons whose names are on the church's current list of active voting members are admitted. As an additional precaution, members present at such a meeting should be asked to adopt a resolution of confidentiality, agreeing not to discuss the information with any non-member under any circumstances. Persons dissenting from this vote should be excused from the meeting. Alternatively, the statements are set forth in a letter that is sent to active voting members (with the notation "privileged and confidential" on both the letter and envelope).
2. Church office staff should recognize the risks associated with the disclosure of confidential information. If such disclosures would seriously offend the average person, then they expose the church staff to liability based on invasion of privacy, even if the information that is disclosed is true. Church staff members also should realize that publicly ascribing positions to persons that they do not hold is another form of invasion of privacy that has been recognized by some courts.
3. Consult with an attorney before making any potentially defamatory statement to the congregation (in a meeting or through correspondence).
This article first appeared in Church Office Today. For subscription information visit ChurchOfficeToday.com.
Copyright © 2009 by the author or Christianity Today/Your Church magazine.
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