A Pastor’s Tweet: The Truth or Libel?

BlogHer Original Post

Getting fired because of a 140 character tweet is bad. What can be worse is being held financially responsible for your words in blogs, web sites and social media communications.

The following is an example of evolving news story. Information and details may change, but this is what is known at this time.

Pastor Shaun King has made powerful allegations concerning Bishop Jonathan Alvarado. Pastor King did not make the allegations at his church in Georgia; he used Twitter.

Stained Glass in a Church

This is an example of some of the tweets:

#3 In the name of grace, mercy, and Bishop Alvarado's deliverance people have protected him and left wounded young men hanging high and dry.

#4 I dare you to you to FIND ONE staff member of Bishop Alvarado's church that believes he has not molested boys. Find ONE. Don't exist.

#5 Ask Bishop Alvarado's attorneys if he molested boys. Ask them if he has settled cases with them admitting guilt for their silence.

How do I know that the statements that he has made are the truth?

Are The Allegations True?

Pastor King’s wife, Rai King has a detailed post explaining the relationship between her husband and Jonathan Alvarado. It goes into the reasoning process and information he obtained to make his decision to post to Twitter. I did find other blogs in support of the Pastor but none that could confirm information about the allegations.

I visited the Total Grace Christian Center web site. There was nothing referring to the allegations on the day I visited. That may have changed since that time.

I did find one blog that had very strong opinions of Jonathan Alvarado. I’m Speaking Truth has written about Alvarado’s ministry and his alternative views of certain Bible passages. It was from this blog that I was able to find the initial case number for the DeKalb District Attorney review of the allegations.

On the Uppity Negro Network blog there is a lengthy consideration about what is appropriate behavior for people of faith. Is the real story about antagonism between the two men? Was there a better way for King’s concerns to be handled?

It is a long post but there is a section that I could agree with in principle:

Justice in this case could simply be making sure that the culprit sees the inside of a courtroom, not necessarily seeking one’s own vigilante justice by smearing his name on Twitter.  It also means waiting until all the facts come to the fore, or rather, enough facts to move forward with one’s assumption.

Facts. That is the Operative Word

It is hard, especially if you truly believe that you have the facts to “do nothing.” Accusations about molestation are extremely serious. As adults we are required to make our best reasoned judgments and actions.

We don’t know what has happened. There is no verifiable or tangible truth at this time. We only have Shaun King’s words. To be clear, I would never advocate for Pastor King or anyone else in his position to keep silent or “do nothing.”

In fact, in some states, depending on your profession as a teacher, social worker, healthcare provider or faith based volunteer, you might be legally mandated to report suspected cases of crimes against children and teens to the police.

The nature of these allegations require professional investigation.

What Is Libel?

Libel is the written defamation of character of another person. Defamation is the intentional or negligent communication about a person’s character, behavior or public persona to a third person. If the words that are used damage a person’s reputation, business or livelihood you can be held legally accountable.

There are slightly different rules for private citizens and public figures. One thing is clear; if the statement you make about another person can be proven to be maliciously false it can cost you a lot of money.

Basketball referee Bill Spooner is suing Associated Press reporter Jon Krawczynski $75,000 for implying that Spooner fixed the game and for being investigated by the NBA.

Performer Courtney Love settled out of court with fashion designer Dawn Simorangkir for $430,000.

And depending on the jury you get, even a factual representation can cost you $$$.

Resources You Need to Know

The Electronic Freedom’s Foundation Bloggers Legal Guide On Online Defamation Law is a good place to start about defamation, libel and slander.

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press tracks the defamation cases that affect bloggers and journalists. In the RCFP Reading Room there is also a First Amendment Handbook with a chapter on libel and a section on how to avoid defamation.

Anna at Motherly Law has written about libel on BlogHer and on her web site. In 2008, BlogHer Contributing Editor Kim Pearson wrote a post on How to Avoid A Lawsuit: Tips for Bloggers.

Time will tell if the accusations are correct. This is a lesson for all of us to be aware of what we say, how we say it and the ability to back it up with facts is more important than ever.

Gena Haskett is a BlogHer Contributing Editor. My Blogs: Out On The Stoop and Create Video Notebook

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