Mother Gives Former Church Bad Reviews Online; Pastor Sues for $500,000

Julie Anne Smith used to attend Beaverton Grace Bible Church in Oregon. After her family left, other church members began to shun her — it was as if the pastor told them all to avoid the Smiths at all costs.

So Smith wrote up some 1-star reviews of the church online… and began a blog called “Beaverton Grace Bible Church Survivors.”

How did Pastor Charles (Chuck) O’Neal respond? With forgiveness? With an apology for her bad experience?

Nah. He’s suing her for $500,000:

… the pastor claims in the lawsuit he filed that her words, “creepy,” “cult,” “control tactics,” and “spiritual abuse,” are defamation.

The lawsuit didn’t just target Smith. Her daughter and three other commenters are also being sued.

“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,” Smith said. “And he’s not my pastor anymore. He does not have that right to keep people from talking.”

The Smiths filed a special free speech motion to dismiss the lawsuit. It goes before a judge later this month.

The Streisand Effect is in full force since the media’s taken notice:

Neither the pastor, the pastor’s wife, nor his attorney wanted to speak with the press. Because, you know, they don’t want any negative attention…

Interestingly enough, in the few days since the story went public, the church has gotten multiple 1-star reviews on the Google and DexKnows websites :)

The way Pastor O’Neal’s handled all this just goes to show Smith was right to point out the “control tactics” in the church. They can’t handle honest criticism — it messes with the whole “let’s brainwash our congregation” thing.

So where are all the people who attend the church? Why aren’t they speaking out? Even if they like the church, do they support this frivolous lawsuit? Or are they just keeping silent so they don’t piss off this pastor-dictator?

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • Reginald Selkirk


    Strategic lawsuit against public participation

    A strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP) is a lawsuit that is intended to censor, intimidate, and silence critics by burdening them with the cost of a legal defense until they abandon their criticism or opposition…

  • Kevin_Of_Bangor

    This was on Fark yesterday and a lot of people hit the Google reviews and knocked their rating down.

  • 0xabad1dea

    Amazing how no-one ever remembers that verse in the New Testament that says Christians should not take other Christians to court because it’s a freaking embarrassment to the religion 

    Pretty sure Paul had exactly this sort of thing in mind, funny how things don’t change.

    • kraken17

      First part of 1 Corinthians 6. Although I’m sure there would be some sort of “she’s not a real Christian anyway” argument made.

      • RobMcCune

        They always make that argument, there are fewer true christians than true scotsmen.

  • Stev84

    Looking at some of the stories, that church is the textbook definition of a spiritually abusive and legalistic cult.

    However, aside from the lawsuit it isn’t any different than thousands of other churches in the US. There are dozens of websites and blogs that tell endless stories that are exactly the same

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    Authoritarianism is always self-defeating in the long run. It foments dissension and resentment, and if that is dealt with by adding more authoritarianism, the process accelerates.  Whether it’s a Syrian dictator bombing and shelling his own people, or a small town dictator-preacher using legal and social extortion to intimidate his flock into submission, the reactionary bully just keeps adding energy to his own downfall.

  • http://www.facebook.com/cburschka Christoph Burschka

    I didn’t even know you could review churches online now. What do they say – “Excellent organ player, priest delivered inspirational sermon, but got a bit too familiar with my kid. Four stars.”

    It’ll be nice to see this particular pastor be educated about freedom of speech. “Creepy” is pretty obviously an opinion and not libel.

    • David

      Here’s the bitter irony of it all. Yesterday I came across the Beaverton’s church’s website and found a 2008 Independence Day video where Pastor Chuck was proud “to take the opportunity to express our civil liberties… and to celebrate our freedom of speech.” In exercising his freedom of expression in front of downtown Portland’s convention center he yells in a belligerent tone at a passerby, “You Sir, shall Perish from the Wrath of God!”

      He’s free to do that, but he doesn’t feel Julie Anne is free to exercise her own judgement of the man and his church?

  • DG

    Strange story.  And?

    • Mari

      And what? They reported on a strange story like you said. That’s what the news does. What more were yiu expecting?

      • Rosemary

         It would be nice if there were some kind of enforced journalist standards for integrity and proper research and evaluation of material.  There used to be – but commercial pushes to write only what sells papers intervened.  Praise the selfish ethics of the market place and pass the collection plate as well.

    • http://www.facebook.com/maik.both Maik Both

      Some people will be surprised to see how far a religious leader will go to try and keep control. Some other people won’t be surprised because they understand and agree with the reasons for doing so.

      • Jdatty

        And of course atheists would never sue anyone!

        • Glasofruix

           I never understood the american proficiency to sue anyone for anything….

          • http://twitter.com/69wyocowboy Silas Richardson

            its called we have no money so we will sue…

      • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

         Some of us aren’t surprised because we’ve come to expect this sort of thing.

  • K Dorian

    I find myself exceedingly annoyed by the newscaster who handed off the story to the reporter on the scene. It is not a “first amendment showdown-freedom of religion vs freedom of speech.” Unless the pastor is claiming that the bad reviews are part of some government plot to destroy his church, it has nothing to do with “freedom of religion” at all.

    • Ryan

      That is EXACTLY what I was thinking.

    • Derrik Pates

      That was my thought as well. Clearly these reporters need to re-familiarize themselves with what the First Amendment actually says.

  • Jules

    Can anyone get me the full link to the discussion at fark.com? I don’t know how you’re supposed to find anything on that site anymore. My searches certainly haven’t worked. Thanks!

    • http://gloomcookie613.tumblr.com GloomCookie613

       Well, I posted the link earlier, but it was removed?  I fail to see why?  But in any event, here it is again.

      http://www.fark.com/comments/7101926/Praise-God-serve-$500k-defamation-lawsuit-for-a-negative-online-review-from-a-shunned-parishoner

      If there’s some sort of problem with me posting the link, the least would be to explain *why*.

    • http://gloomcookie613.tumblr.com GloomCookie613

      If the link disappears again, just go to the mainpage on fark, scroll down a bit (it was posted yesterday) and search for this headline:

      “Praise God and serve the $500k defamation lawsuit for a negative online review from a shunned parishoner”

      Then click on the threadcount number on the right.  Enjoy! :)

  • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

    I hope the Smiths countersue. At the least, when the court dismisses the church’s suit it should require it to pay any legal costs incurred.

  • http://cousinavi.wordpress.com cousinavi

    “Great service.  Would speak in tongues again.”

  • http://northierthanthou.com/ northierthanthou

    Digging a deeper hole.

  • Fguadagnoli

    Sounds like the Pastor (O’Neal) is trying to keep his flock in line with a heavy hand.  I am surprised that the Grace Church has not fired this guy .  Hope the judge makes him pay for
    his stupid actions.  I think he is bring more unfavorable opinions on his church.  Probably didn’t think it thru.

  • J. R. Boedeker

    Left my review.  

  • Rickenbacker4001

    You can review churches? Oh man, I better get that bass I have been praying for or, 1 star !

  • Max

    Sounds like this pastor took some lessons from the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society! (Jehovah’s Witnesses)

  • Aliasthevault – twitter

    While I tend to believe the defendants in this case, given my experience with abusive ministries, the church is suing for more than just negative reviews. There is a statement on their website that states there were supposed false allegations of the pastor abusing his kids and that the church allowed a sexual predator to work in the children’s area. So…who’s lying? Of course who knows if anyone actually said any of that. If they did and the allegations ARE true, this may end up being worse than bad publicity for the church. And I wonder what far reaching effects the verdict of this case could have….

  • Jack Wilson

    Did I miss something? All I see is a disgruntled Church member not dropping the experience but taking to attack the Church and Pastor. I also see a Pastor suing. but I don’t see any “he said she said “stuff. So now an Atheist writes an opinion and all these border cases rally. Is there a story here?

    • Spuddie

      Yes, you missed the part about te pastor taking malicious frivolous legal action in response to a published negative opinion. It’s a dick move on the pastors part and indicative of someone contemptuous of free speech.


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