Recent Developments

Issues that affect ministers and churches
Churchgoer’s Criminal Stalking Conviction Vacated Due to Free Speech Concerns
Man’s social media posts about a church employee retained First Amendment protections, court says.
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A North Carolina court ruled that a church member could not be convicted of violating an anti-stalking statute for posting content to his social media account that offended another member.

An adult male (the “defendant”) met a woman (“Mary”) at a church prior to the start of a Good Friday worship service. Mary was employed in the church's communications department. The two of them were seated at the same table and briefly made small talk in a group setting before separating at the beginning of the service. Upon leaving church that day, Mary did not give any further thought to her encounter with the defendant.

A few weeks later the defendant mailed a five-page handwritten letter to Mary's work address. Mary later testified:

The gist of it was that when [Defendant] first saw me at the Good Friday service he thought he had found his soul mate, and that the feelings he felt were so intense he couldn't talk to me. And then he goes on to say that he used the communications plan to talk to me, to ask me out, rather than for professional reasons.

The defendant ended the letter by writing that he was "highly attracted" to Mary and asking her to go on a date with him. The following day, Mary gave the letter to her work supervisors and asked them to intervene on her behalf, and they agreed to do so. She did not respond to the defendant's letter.

A few days later the defendant sent Mary a second handwritten letter, which was seven pages long and mailed to her home address. Mary provided the following summary of the second letter:

He starts by apologizing for sending this to me without me giving him my address. He says he found it on a website. And he also says that he would not harass or stalk me, and that if I felt uncomfortable to notify him and he would cease communication. Then he goes on to talk about some of his personal history, and the last line says that I need to go on a date with him or tell him to leave me alone.

Mary showed the defendant's letter to her supervisors, who once again told her that they would handle the situation.

The church’s minister of pastoral care spoke to the defendant over the phone about his communications with Mary. During this phone call, the minister told the defendant "to stop making any contact [with Mary] and [that] there could be legal actions if he did, and that the contacts were unwanted." Following this conversation, the defendant did not send Mary any further emails or letters.

Posted:
October 7, 2019

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