A church is suing an Oregon woman who wrote a bad Google review.
The Beaverton, Ore. church, Beaverton Grace Bible, claimed that Julie Ann Smith posted the negative review about the church after the dismissal of a church employee.
Now, Pastor Charles O’Neal is suing Smith and her daughter for $500 thousand for defamation. O’Neal claims the review included words such as “creepy,” “cult,” “control tactics” and “spiritual abuse,” and says that these words constitute defmation, according to KATU-TV.
Smith told the television station, “I thought, I’m just going to post a review. We do it with restaurants and hotels and whatnot, and I thought, why not do it with this church?”
The original review was taken off of Google, but Smith posted this draft that she had saved on her computer on her website.
“Although this church touts to be ‘Beaverton Grace Bible’, the ‘grace’ word is lacking. This is more of a legalistic church where if you don’t do things their way (which is the ‘only’ way), you will have challenges. Beaverton Grace is famous for shunning former members/attendees without giving an explanation or following Biblical principles on disagreements.”
The lawsuit, however, alleges that Smith’s original review had a very different tone, quoting her as saying, “What we had was indoctrination… That is how cult leaders work. Don’t waste your precious lives and relationships being held emotionally / spiritually captive by this so-called church.”
The lawsuit also alleges that Smith wrote, “… how can she forget that her own beloved pastor knew about a sex offender in the church who had access to the nursery and children on a weekly basis and did not have any safeguards in place.”
Finally, the lawsuit alleges that Smith posted a message stating that, “This is a very destructive and disturbing “church.” … The extra-Biblical legalistic teaching is wrong. The gossip/slander, disclosure of what goes on in private counseling sessions, sex offenders having free reign in childrens’ [sic] areas with no disclosure to parents… This is not a safe place.”
Smith’s legal battles with the church continue, and the back-and-forth seems never-ending. Beaverton Grace Bible Church says, “the facts will show that this is not a free speech case,” while Smith wrote on her blog, “The story of spiritual abuse needs to be told. 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.”
In addition to Smith, the church is suing her daughter and three other commenters.
Since the entire story is based around a Google review, it would be remiss not to comment on the church’s review page. The church has a one star rating (out of six possible) and 648 reviews, the majority of which are negative. Will Pastor Chuck start suing all 600 plus reviewers? More likely, the case will be dropped entirely due to the freedom of speech set forth in the First Amendment.