A Beaverton, Ore. Church is suing a woman over a bad Google review of the Beaverton Grace Bible Church, claiming the review and other allegedly defamatory acts were payback for dismissing a former church employee.
Pastor Charles O'Neal is suing Julie Ann Smith and her daughter $500,000 for defamation, claiming in court papers that words in the review, such as creepy, cult, control tactics and spiritual abuse constitute defamation, according to KATU-TV.
Smith said she believes it is within her rights to post critical reviews of her former church online.
What somebody does in the church is one thing, but when you get out into society we have the right to free speech, and it may not be what people want to hear, but we absolutely have that right, Smith told the news station.
Smith created her own blog, Beaverton Grace Bible Church Survivors, which she says she started in February following the lawsuit. The blog also has a link to donate to a legal defense fund for Smith, her daughter and three other commenters who are being sued by O'Neal.
The story of spiritual abuse needs to be told, Smith wrote. People are being hurt emotionally and spiritually by pastors who use bully tactics and we need a place to learn, to talk freely, and to heal. I will not be silenced.
Smith and the others being sued are not the only ones who thinks poorly of the Beaverton Grace Bible Church, however. Out of 625 Google reviews, the Oregon church has an average rating of one star. Only one commenter called the church the best ever.
The Beaverton Grace Bible Church posted a response on their website, saying, the facts will show that this is not a free speech case.
The church said its pastor and the church have been targets of defamation after a staff member was removed from the church.
Beaverton Grace Bible Church claimed O'Neal was accused of abusing his children and allowing pornography to be distributed to teenagers in the church. The church said the allegations were dismissed.
Please do not be quick to believe what you hear or read in the press and then pass judgment upon our motives or our commitment to Scripture. Proverbs 18:17 says, The first one to plead his cause seems right, until his neighbor comes and examines him. Proverbs 25:8 says, Do not go hastily to court; For what will you do in the end, When your neighbor has put you to shame?, O'Neal said in a statement. We have not gone hastily to court. For three and a half years this group has been engaged in a public, church to church, and World Wide Web defamation, showing their willingness to discredit God, harm the church, harm wives, harm children, and harm the testimony of Christ's Gospel.
Smith told KATU-TV she would not have the means to pay O'Neal the amount he's seeking should a court side with the church.
I'm a stay-at-home mom. I teach my kids at home, and this is just not the amount of money that normal moms have, she said.