Beaverton church sues family after they criticize it online
BEAVERTON, Ore. - A church pastor is suing a mother and daughter for $500,000 because they gave the church bad reviews online.
The family being sued left the church a few years ago and Julie Anne Smith says she and her family were shunned and couldn't understand why. So she went online and wrote Google and DEX reviews of the church and then started 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?"
Never did she think Beaverton Grace Bible Church and Pastor Charles O'Neal would slap her with the lawsuit.
"I'm a stay-at-home mom. I teach my kids at home, and this is just not the amount of money that normal moms have."
When the family left the church, Smith says friends were told to end all contact with her.
"If I went to Costco or any place in town, if I ran into somebody, they would turn their heads and walk the other way," she said. "All we did was asked questions. We just raised concerns. There's no sin in that."
Dissatisfied, she went online to write reviews. Other church members counteracted them with church praise. So Smith started a blog called "Beaverton Grace Bible Church Survivors."
But the pastor claims in the lawsuit he filed that her words, "creepy," "cult," "control tactics," and "spiritual abuse," are defamation.
"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," Smith said.
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.
KATU News called the church, went there, went to the pastor's home and spoke to his wife. KATU News also called the pastor's attorney. All of them declined to give their side of the story.