Beaverton church sues blogging ex-member, seeks $500,000 - KPTV - FOX 12

Beaverton church sues blogging ex-member, seeks $500,000

Posted: Updated: July 13, 2012 09:13 AM

A woman who badmouthed her former church on her blog may have to shell out hundreds of thousands of dollars after the church filed a defamation lawsuit.

A Washington County Judge heard arguments from both sides Friday afternoon and now must decide whether the case will move forward.

The Beaverton Grace Bible Church sued Julie Anne Smith, saying her blog could ruin their reputation. Smith's daughter and a third former church member are also targets of the lawsuit.

Smith said she stands by her blog posts.

She said the church practices spiritual abuse. She also wrote the pastor knew there was a sex offender in the church and gave him access to children and the nursery.

That's one of the accusations that the church lists in their lawsuit. Church leaders said it's false and that Smith only posted it to get back at Pastor Chuck O'Neal.

"It's an attempt o ruin us, and it's been highly successful," Pastor O'Neal told Fox 12 outside of court. "They have said the worst possible kind of things you can say about a pastor, about a church."

Meanwhile, Smith's attorney argued there's no evidence of malice in the posts online.

"I have the right to free speech," said Julie Anne Smith.  "This is so important for everybody who writes on the Internet or uses whatever media to express their opinion, so this is an absolute crucial case to be watching."

Smith said she wrote the truth to the best of her knowledge, and her blog posts have gone viral with thousands of views.

"Now I'm hearing similar stories from all over the states from people who have experienced something like this," she said.

Though free speech is protected under the First Amendment, defamation is not. The church will have to prove Smith's words are false and written to harm O'Neal's reputation. If Smith wins the case, the church will pay her court fees.

"If he wins this case, then the freedom of speech for everybody is threatened," Smith said.

The Judge in the case said he will issue a decision in writing likely next week.

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