"As I mused, the fire burned"

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Niagara Anglican Bishop sues blogger for defamation

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The bishop of Niagara, Michael Bird, is suing an Anglican blogger for defamation.

An outrageous action, but then I stopped being surprised by the actions of the corporate church in about 2006.  Just to be clear, a definition, from the Canadian Bar Association (BC Branch):

What is defamation?
Defamation is communication about a person that tends to hurt the person’s reputation. Defamation is a strict liability tort, which means that the intentions of the defamer are not relevant.  The communication must be made to other people, not just to the person it’s about. The statement must be false to be classified as defamation. If it is spoken, then defamation is termed “slander”.  If it is written, it is termed “libel”. It can also be a gesture, which is a type of slander.

The law protects your reputation against defamation. If someone defames you, you can sue them to pay money (called “damages”) for harming your reputation. You have to sue in Supreme Court, not Provincial Court, and you have to sue within 2 years of the defamation.  It is not relevant the timing of when you discovered the defamation.  Rather, the limitation period commences on the date the defamatory statement was made or published.

The law doesn’t protect you from a personal insult or a remark that injures only your pride; it protects reputation, not feelings. So if someone calls you a lazy slob, you might be hurt, but you probably don’t have a good reason to sue. If he goes on to say you cheat in your business dealings, you probably do have a good reason to sue, as long as he says it to someone else, not just to you. If he says it only to you, you can’t sue because he has not hurt your reputation.

The allegedly defamed bishop is seeking $400,000 in damages plus legal costs.  Wow, that’s a lot of bibles.

From the bishop’s statement of claim as printed in the Anglican Journal article:

The bishop’s statement of claim alleges that Jenkins’ words “in their natural and ordinary meaning meant and were understood to mean that he ‘is a weak and ineffectual leader and that his actions were motivated by avarice or financial gain…a thief…has a sexual fetish…[and] is an atheist and heretic bent on the destruction of Christianity.’ ”

Here’s a little problem with the secular courts approach (aside from the biblical prohibition, that is).  Defamation involves false statements that injure  a person’s reputation.  The court case will probably require both sides to present arguments for and against the assertion that the bishop is a ‘weak and ineffectual leader’ and ‘an atheist and heretic bent on the destruction of Christianity’.  I’m also wondering what attendance figures in the diocese look like, since that could form a valid factual basis for an argument for or against ‘the destruction of Christianity’ depending on what the numbers show.  Personally, I would rather be defamed than have to submit myself to that kind of public scrutiny.

Outrageous.  At least I have some understanding why our secular society doesn’t pay the mainline church much attention.

One reason, we don’t pay any attention to our real articles of incorporation, like 1 Corinthians 6 (ESV):

Lawsuits Against Believers

6 When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints? Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life! So if you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who have no standing in the church? I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers, but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers? To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? But you yourselves wrong and defraud—even your own brothers!

Reason 2: You’ll know we are Christians by our love (not by how we sue each other).

Reason 3: As I’ve often preached, being reviled is a part of the job description for a Christian.  From our Magna Carta, the Gospel of Matthew 5 (ESV):

11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

The frightening part of this case is the chilling effect it may have on free speech in the blogsphere.  I wonder how many WordPress account users carry liability insurance?


Written by sameo416

May 6, 2013 at 8:36 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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