Church Sues Former Members

Tuesday, May 15, 2012 - 10:35am

Oregon pastor upset with online comments seeks $500,000.

Julie Anne Smith claims her family left the Beaverton Grace Bible Church in Beaverton, Oregon when church members started shunning them, refusing to even look at them.

"I know you are shunning me, but tell me what did I do wrong?" She said she asked. "What did our family do wrong?"

Smith posted her concerns about the church in a Google review, but said her comments kept disappearing.

"Since my voice was removed from Google and was not staying there, I felt like I needed a place to have a voice," she said.

She launched a blog called Beaverton Grace Bible Church Survivors.

It's a place where former church members and others share their opinions and experiences.

At last check, the site had been viewed nearly 26,000 times since it launched a few months ago.

On March 1, church pastor Charles O'Neal filed a $500,000 lawsuit against Smith and three other former church members.

The suit claims certain words posted online like "creepy" and "control tactics" amount to defamation.

"This is the country of freedom where we can say things," Smith said, "and I have to laugh because what I have on my blog is so tame compared to what I read on the Internet."

Attorney Linda Williams represents Smith and says cases like this rarely go to trial in Oregon.

She believes this lawsuit is frivolous because of free speech protections and the high damage request.

"It would be extremely difficult to determine that wording or posting caused that tremendous $500,000 worth of damage," she said. "It just didn't."

The church has yet to respond to a request for comments on the suit.

"If Chuck O'Neil wins, I think all the bloggers and people who have sites on the Internet better be shaking in their boots," said Smith

The Smiths have filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, which goes before a judge May 21.

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