An Oregon pastor is reportedly suing a mother and her daughter for $500,000 after the two blogged about the church and described it as "cult-like."
Pastor Charles O'Neal of the Beaverton Grace Bible Church claims reviews on a blog started by former church member Julie Anne Smith amount to defamation. Smith, who says "the story of spiritual abuse needs to be told," described O'Neal and his church outside Portland as "creepy" and "cult-like." She described him calling for church elders to search closets of female congregants for clothes that are too revealing, among other lessons from the pulpit.
Smith told the KATU.com that she and her family were shunned by community members after leaving the church in Beaverton a few years ago. Smith said she then began writing Google and DEX reviews of the church as well as a blog.
"I thought, I'm just going to post a review," Smith said. "We do it with restaurants and hotels and whatnot, and I thought, why not do it with this church?" Smith told the website.
O'Neal claims in his lawsuit that Smith's use of words like "creepy," "cult," "control tactics," and "spiritual abuse," are defamation. O'Neal is suing Smith as well as her daughter and three other commentators, according to the website.
The pastor could not be reached, but audio clips of several of his sermons are available on the church's website. On one, he blasts the late televangelist the Rev. Robert Schuller, saying his book, "Self Esteem: The New Reformation" is "a book that will one day be burned in the fires of Hell."
Smith says the online reviews and blog are protected under the right to free speech.
"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," she told the website. "He can say what he wants in the church and say, don't talk about this or don't talk about that, or don't talk to this person, but when you're out in the civil world, you don't do that anymore ... And he's not my pastor anymore. He does not have that right to keep people from talking."